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A UN peacekeeper stands guard in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Feb. 15, 2006. (AP Photo)

United Nations peacekeepers went to a Haitian garbage dump on Wednesday to recover ballot boxes amid allegations that the Feb. 7 presidential vote was marred by fraud.

A day earlier, Haiti's interim government ordered the vote count to stop and election results be reviewed after the presidential frontrunner, René Préval, said the poll was tainted by mistakes or "gigantic fraud."

That evening, a local television station broadcast images from the dump near Port-au-Prince that showed crumpled ballot boxes surrounded by heaps of ballots, many marked for Préval.

Associated Press reporters who visited the site on Wednesday said they saw hundreds of empty ballot boxes, empty ballot bags and at least one vote tally sheet.

"That's extraordinary," a UN spokesperson, David Wimhurst, told AP.

Officials question whether materials are genuine

Wimhurst, who is part of a 9,000-member UN force sent to stabilize the Caribbean country before the election, said the ballots could have come from several polling stations across the country that were ransacked on election day.

He said some were destroyed by voters who grew frustrated after waiting hours to cast their ballots, while others were wrecked by political factions.

Both Wimhurst and the head of Haiti's electoral council, Max Mathurin, raised the possibility that someone may have dumped the ballots to create the appearance of fraud.

Haiti's interim government, which was appointed after the ouster of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, has promised to appoint a commission to investigate allegations of vote fraud.

In the meantime, it said the judiciary would examine the materials found at the dump.

"We are looking closely at specimens of the ballots found at the dump, to check whether these are real ballots," said Michel Brunache, chief of staff of interim president Boniface Alexandre.

UN extends peacekeeping mission by six months

Tens of thousands of Préval's supporters have flooded the streets of Port-au-Prince in the last few days, demanding that he be declared president.

The protesters, who are largely drawn from Haiti's impoverished majority, accuse election officials of conspiring with the country's elite to manipulate election results against Préval.

Among other developments on Wednesday:

  • Brazil, which heads the UN mission in Haiti, said it was leading efforts to persuade other presidential candidates to recognize Préval's victory in order to prevent a mass uprising.
  • The UN Security Council extended the peacekeeping mission by six months, to Aug. 15.

Preliminary results suggested Préval had captured more than 60 per cent of the ballots. But as the counting continued, he slipped below the majority he needs to be declared victor outright and avoid a March runoff election.

The most recent election results, published Monday, show Préval with 48.7 per cent of the ballots. About 90 per cent of the ballots had been counted by that point.

His closest rival, Leslie Manigat, held only 11.8 per cent of the vote.

About 125,000 of the 2.2 million ballots cast in the presidential and parliamentary poll have been declared invalid because of irregularities, fuelling fears of fraud among Préval's backers. Nearly 90,000 others were blank but were still added to the total, making it harder for Préval to get a majority.