PORT-AU-PRINCE – Haitian election officials on Friday indefinitely postponed this weekend’s presidential runoff election, but the move did not bring a halt to violent incidents in this capital and cities in the country’s northeast involving thousands of demonstrators opposed to the vote.
“There are people wounded, but we don’t have the number yet,” a Haitian police source told EFE.
The protesters’ jubilant celebration lasted mere minutes after the election decision was announced and quickly gave way to clashes with the police, who closed downtown Port-au-Prince and had to fire gunshots in the air and use tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Eyewitnesses said the incidents occurred in Petionville, considered the safest area of Greater Port-au-Prince.
Scenes of panic were apparent in that affluent hillside suburb, where a heavy security contingent was deployed after numerous stores were looted and several vehicles were set ablaze.
Gunfire also was heard near Place Saint Pierre and demonstrators hurled rocks at the security forces, the eyewitnesses said.
The protests began Friday morning to denounce the runoff election scheduled for Sunday, but after the Provisional Electoral Council, or CEP, announced that the ballot had been canceled the protesters focused their wrath on President Michel Martelly and the CEP, intensifying their demonstrations outside the council’s headquarters.
The protesters also issued a call for civil disobedience.
The CEP, which organizes elections in Haiti, canceled the vote due to the breakdown in public safety in the destitute Caribbean nation and to purported death threats received by several of its members, the council’s president, Pierre Opont, said at a brief news conference.
It did not set a new date for the balloting.
Martelly’s hand-picked successor, businessman Jovenel Moise, had been leading in voter preference over opposition candidate Jude Celestin, a businessman who said the Oct. 25 first round of voting was marred by fraud and had called for a boycott of the runoff.