- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Supporters of Haitian presidential candidate Rene Preval erected smoldering roadblocks across the capital and occupied a luxury hotel yesterday. At least one protester was killed, but U.N. peacekeepers denied witness accounts that they had shot him.

As Port-au-Prince descended into chaos, Mr. Preval returned to the capital for the first time since the Tuesday election. He was the clear winner with about 90 percent of the votes counted, but supporters said electoral officials were tampering with results to prevent him from getting the majority he needs to avoid a runoff.

Barricades made of old tires were ablaze across the capital, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky. Protesters let only journalists and Red Cross vehicles pass.

“If they don’t give us the final results, we’re going to burn this country down,” a protester screamed.

The election is to replace an interim government installed after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a rebellion two years ago. Haiti has spiraled downward since, with gangs going on kidnapping sprees and factories closing for lack of security.

Mr. Preval arrived aboard a U.N. helicopter from his rural home in north Haiti. Officials said leaders of the interim government and the international community would urge him to appeal for calm.

Landing at a U.N. base, Mr. Preval was asked whether he had a message for his supporters. “Not now,” he said, and kept walking.

In the middle-class Tabarre neighborhood, Associated Press journalists saw the body of a man in a Preval T-shirt. Dozens of witnesses said Jordanian U.N. peacekeepers in a jeep had opened fire, killing two persons and wounding four. The body of the second reported victim was not seen.

“We were peacefully protesting when the U.N. started shooting. There were a lot of shots. Everybody ran,” said Walrick Michel, 22.

David Wimhurst, a spokesman for the United Nations, first denied that peacekeepers had fired any rounds, but later said they had fired in the air. “We fired two warning shots into the air, and we didn’t injure anyone,” he said.

In the Petionville neighborhood east of Port-au-Prince, thousands of protesters poured into the $200-a-night Hotel Montana, where election officials had been announcing results. Dozens somersaulted fully clothed into the pool while others stretched out on lounge chairs and ran up and down the hotel stairs.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who is visiting Haiti, came out of his suite to appeal for calm. One of his security agents said the South African had refused to be evacuated by a helicopter that was plucking guests from the roof.

“We came looking for someone to give us the real results,” said a 30-year-old Preval organizer who identified himself only as “Sanpeur.” “We don’t want disorder. We did not come here looking for violence.”

Of the about 90 percent of votes counted, Mr. Preval had 48.7 percent, Haiti’s electoral council said on its Web site. His nearest opponent was Leslie Manigat, another former president, who had 11.8 percent.

But of the 2.2 million ballots cast, about 125,000 have been declared invalid because of irregularities, raising suspicion among Preval supporters that polling officials were rigging the election.

An additional 4 percent of the ballots were blank but were added to the total, making it more difficult for Mr. Preval to obtain the 50 percent plus one vote needed.

Jacques Bernard, director general of the nine-member electoral council, denied accusations that the council voided many votes for Mr. Preval.

But council member Patrick Fequiere said Mr. Bernard was releasing results without notifying other council members, who did not know where the director general was obtaining his information. And another council member, Pierre Richard Duchemin, said he was being denied access to the tabulation process.

“According to me, there’s a certain level of manipulation,” Mr. Duchemin said. “There is an effort to stop people from asking questions.”

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