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Haitians Protest Over Slow Vote Count


Haitian voters begin to grow impatient at delays in the release of election results from Haiti's elections earlier this week. For the second day, demonstrators have taken to the streets. Tuesday's vote was the first democratic elections in Haiti since former president Jean Bertrand Aristide fled the country two years ago.

Demonstrators mobbed the entrance to the hotel where election officials are tabulating final vote count, demanding the results be released. Many demonstrators were wearing T-shirts and carrying posters of front-runner presidential candidate Rene Preval, who is in first place with a little over 49 percent of the vote after three quarters of the ballots have been counted. That is short of the majority he would need to avoid run-offs.

As truckloads of U.N. troops arrived to provide reinforcements at the results center, the crowd waved tree branches and shouted "We are not afraid."

Many people, like Chantalle Bourdon, say they feel robbed if Mr. Preval does not win the presidency in the first round.

"They tell us they are giving the results tomorrow. We aren't here to destroy anything," she said. "But we are going to close the schools and block the roads until they tell us that Rene Preval is president."

Preval was president from 1996 to 2001, and is seen as a close ally to exiled president Aristide. He holds widespread support among the urban poor, but as votes come in from the rural areas, his lead in the race has dropped from more than 60 percent to just bellow the majority he needs to win the race. Trailing him in second place is former president Leslie Manigat, who holds nearly 12 percent of the vote.

Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu visited Haiti Sunday, and in a sermon at St. Trinity Cathedral in downtown Port-au-Prince praised Haitians for their commitment to peace during the elections.

But a growing number of public figures, including Preval himself, are questioning the integrity of the electoral council.

On Sunday, Preval said from his rural hometown of Marmelade that electoral officials had given two different vote counts, showing he was both under and over a 50 percent majority at the same time. And two election officials questioned whether there had been manipulation in counting the results at

the tabulation center.

International election observers praised the high turnout of the vote, but criticized the lack of preparation that led to the polls opening hours late. They gave no indication however that this will affect the outcome of the vote.

Election officials, meanwhile, say they will announce election results over the Internet for fear of having the official announcement disrupted by demonstrators.