Haitians set fires, took to barricades and sparred with UN peacekeepers on Wednesday as thousands of people protested the results of the country's presidential election.
Furious protesters in the capital, Port-au-Prince, were reported to have set fire to the headquarters of the ruling Unity Party, the centre of the campaign of government-backed candidate Jude Célestin.
Haiti's Radio Kiskeya said in an unconfirmed report that at least four demonstrators were killed — three in Les Cayes, about 190 kilometres west of Port-au-Prince in the country's southern peninsula, and one in the northern city of Cap-Haitien
The violence also forced the closure of Haiti's international airport. American Airlines had cancelled all flights in and out of the capital when airport employees were unable to get to work Wednesday because of demonstrations, spokeswoman Martha Pantin said. Flights will also be cancelled Thursday.
On-the-ground updates out of Port-au-Prince are coming fast and furious on Twitter. Among the prolific users of the micro-blog writing about the aftermath from the electoral commission's announcement Tuesday were:
@emilytroutman, a writer, photographer and UN citizen ambassador in the city.
@melindayiti, Melinda Miles, a U.S. activist who observed the election and is re-tweeting various colleagues.
@craigkielburger, a Canadian activist who is in Haiti on a project.
@carelpedre, a popular radio host who has expressed support for presidential hopeful Michel Martelly.
@haitinewsnet, for general information.
@jacquiecharles, a Miami Herald reporter.
The leading candidates also have a presence on Twitter. Jude Célestin's camp ( @judecelestin10) is fairly active online. Questions arose after a tweet was posted Tuesday, hours before the electoral commission released results, saying Célestin was headed to the run-off vote.
The other run-off contender, Mirlande Manigat, tweets infrequently in French and Creole at @mirlandemanigat. The wife of a former president has also been quiet since election day. By comparison, Michel Martelly has been loud and vocal on an almost daily basis. His campaign tweets at @presidentmicky and his supporters are also active Twitter users, including his cousin, Richard Morse, or @ramhaiti.
—By Amber Hildebrandt, CBCNews.ca
"[Protesters have] got barricades all around the city," CBC's Connie Watson reported. "You can't move in a vehicle. You can only get around in a moto-taxi or by foot, and that is becoming a very dangerous proposition."
Watson said big chunks of concrete littered many roads Wednesday, and only pedestrians or motorbikes could pick their way through the debris.
In a national radio address, Haitian President René Préval urged the presidential candidates in the Nov. 28 vote to get their supporters to halt the protests.
"This is not how the country is supposed to work," Préval said. "People are suffering because of all this damage."
Demonstrators threw rocks at UN peacekeepers — Indian and Pakistani soldiers working together — who responded with tear gas.
The protests first erupted Tuesday after the provisional electoral council said none of the candidates had won an outright majority in the first round of voting. A run-off vote is expected on Jan. 16.
Manigat at 31%
Mirlande 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.
Michel Martelly, a popular musician also known as Sweet Micky, came in just behind Célestin with slightly more than 21 per cent.
In a radio broadcast Wednesday afternoon, Martelly called for non-violent protests, but he warned his supporters to beware of "infiltrators" who may try to incite violence.
"Demonstrating without violence is the right of the people," he said. "I will be with you until the bald-head victory."
Préval defended the results of the vote, brushing aside suggestions the vote had been marred by fraud.
It's not clear whether Martelly will be allowed to join the top two candidates on the ballot in the run-off vote.
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.
Concerns about the vote centred around conflicts between the announced results and those reported recently by a local election monitoring group financed by the European Union — the National Observation Council.
"A peaceful solution to the current situation is crucial not only to confront the cholera epidemic in the short-term but also to create the conditions in the medium term for recovery and development from the earthquake," said a statement issued by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon on Wednesday addressed the Canadian government's concerns about the outbreak of violence in Haiti and the perceived flaws in the election.
Cannon said the Canadian ambassador to Haiti met with Préval on Wednesday morning to raise the issue of election irregularities and to urge calm.
The U.S. Embassy in Haiti published a statement Tuesday expressing concern about the results and calling for calm.
"The United States, together with Haiti’s international community partners, stands ready to support efforts to thoroughly review irregularities in support of electoral results that are consistent with the will of the Haitian people expressed in their votes, " the statement said.
Haiti is trying to contain a deadly cholera outbreak that has claimed more than 2,000 lives, and the country is still struggling to rebuild after a powerful earthquake in January.