Haitian President Rene Preval has called for calm after protesters set fire to the headquarters of his ruling coalition, accusing it of rigging the preliminary results of the November 28 national election.
President Preval made the appeal in a radio address Wednesday. Late Tuesday, the nation's provisional electoral council announced that former first lady Mirlande Manigat and ruling party candidate Jude Celestin had advanced to the second round of the country's presidential poll. Third-place candidate Michel Martelly trailed by less than one percent of the vote.
Thousands of people, angered by the vote outcome, have been taking to the streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince, starting fires, throwing rocks and setting up barricades. Witnesses said black smoke filled the air as flames tore through the government building.
U.S. air carrier American Airlines suspended flights to and from Haiti for Wednesday and Thursday because the company's employees have not been able to get to work.
A United Nations spokesman says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is concerned about the fraud allegations and is strongly committed to supporting free and fair election results that reflect the will of the Haitian people.
Supporters of Martelly, a popular entertainer, were the most vocal Wednesday. They had expected him to at least make it to a runoff round.
Haitian police reportedly made no attempt to stop the protests.
Violence also erupted in the southern town of Les Cayes, where demonstrators set fire to government buildings.
The United States has expressed concern over the situation. A statement from the U.S. embassy said the results are inconsistent with the published results of the National Observation Council, as well as domestic, U.S. and other international observers.
Haitian election officials said no candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the November 28 election. The runoff has been scheduled for January 16.
The vote, held despite a cholera outbreak, was marred by violence and accusations of cheating. Many voters were unable to find the correct polling station despite repeated attempts.
Several presidential candidates have already challenged the vote.
Merchants and residents in Port-au-Prince had prepared for possible riots after the release of the vote tally. On Sunday, protesters clashed with police, accusing the outgoing government of trying to manipulate the vote in Celestin's favor.
International observers have said the elections should be considered valid, despite irregularities that generated the protests and fraud allegations. The Haitian electoral council declared the balloting a success.
The impoverished Caribbean country is still struggling to recover from an earthquake in January that killed more than 200,000 people and left 1 million others homeless. The ongoing cholera outbreak, first reported in October, has killed more than 2,000 people.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.