Haitian violence grows despite recount

Violent protests filled the streets of Port-au-Prince Thursday as Haiti's electoral council said ballots in the country's disputed presidential election will be recounted.

Canadian embassy closed amid street violence

Supporters of presidential candidate Michel Martelly protest in Pétionville, a suburb of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Thursday. ((Felix Evens/Reuters))

Violent protests filled the streets of Port-au-Prince Thursday as Haiti's electoral council said ballots in the country's disputed presidential election will be recounted.

Supporters of the government-backed candidate Jude Célestin clashed with supporters of Michel Martelly, a popular musician also known as Sweet Micky, who was eliminated in the presidential race.

Protesters upset with the election results piled up barricades made from earthquake rubble and set fires.

Shooting in the streets

CBC's Connie Watson, who witnessed a shooting near the presidential palace in the nation's capital, said she had been interviewing people in the area, which she described as "calm but tense," when a number of Célestin supporters clad in yellow t-shirts came running down the street.

"They're chanting 'Get ready, get ready,' and some of them chant 'Get ready, Martelly,' as in we're coming for you," Watson said.

Watson said a man shouted back: "We don't need Célestin around here."

Watson said some of the supporters grabbed the man, dragged him for a short distance and then stopped. Watson said she saw a man load a gun.

"Two others in camouflaged gear pull handguns out of their waistbands and another guy kind of backs up to protect him and they just shoot the guy in the street and just leave him there to die," Watson said. "This kind of stuff apparently was going on all over the city today.

"There had been rumours … that people were digging out their guns, preparing for this after a period that was relatively calm leading up to the election. Now it's just heating up and heating up."

Council president Gaillot Dorsainvil said Thursday the recount will be done in the presence of Haitian and international observers.

"Given the evident dissatisfaction of many voters, protests and violence that followed the publication of preliminary results," the council has decided to start a recount immediately, Dorsainvil said.

The announcement came after widespread protests rocked the country following the initial release Tuesday of the results, when the provisional electoral council said none of the presidential candidates had won an outright majority in the first round of voting.

Manigat, a professor and wife of a former president, claimed 31 per cent of the votes, followed by  Célestin, with 22 per cent, officials said. Martelly came in just behind Célestin with slightly more than 21 per cent.

Those results meant that Manigat and Célestin would go to a run-off vote slated for Jan. 16.

The election was marred by reports of fraud and blatant ballot-box stuffing, and many of the 19 presidential candidates had called for the vote to be cancelled.

A day earlier, protesters lit fires, set up barricades and clashed with UN peacekeepers. Protesters in Port-au-Prince set fire to the headquarters of the ruling Unity Party, the centre of Célestin's campaign.

Embassy closure

Because of the violence, the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince is closed, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said.

"Due to riots and protests that have been sparked by the announcement of the results of the first round of presidential elections, the embassy of Canada in Haiti … is closed until further notice," a department spokesperson told CBC News.

The department said numerous roadblocks and burning barricades in the area of the embassy made it impossible for Canadian and local staff to get to and from work safely.

The spokesperson said most embassies in the capital are closed or working with reduced staff because of the violent protests.

Despite the closure, the embassy can still be contacted at prnce@international.gc.ca. Canadians who need urgent assistance are being told to call 613-996-8885.

With files from The Associated Press