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Haiti Braces for Trouble as Election Panel Report Is Due

A Catholic nun kneels in prayer during a pause in a procession marking the feast of Corpus Christi in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, May 26, 2016. A review of last year's contested presidential and legislative elections is to be released Sunday.

Haitians are preparing for trouble as an electoral verification commission is due to deliver the results of its monthlong review of last year's contested presidential and legislative elections.

The five-member panel, led by a Haitian businessman who is a former ambassador to the U.S., is scheduled to deliver its recommendations Sunday to the country's revamped Provisional Electoral Council. It's also due to provide its report to Haiti's interim president during a ceremony that could be held Monday.

It was not immediately clear when the commission's report will be made public. The panel's mostly mum spokesman, Gideon Jean, said there would be no press conference this weekend and then declined to respond to further questions. National Palace officials said Saturday they didn't know when the report would be released.

Embassies send warning

In recent days, several foreign embassies have warned their citizens in Haiti that the release of the panel's recommendations and a scheduled Tuesday announcement of a new election date could lead to civil unrest in coming days.

"U.S. citizens are reminded that unrest and protests throughout Haiti could occur," said a May 25 security message by the U.S. Embassy.

For residents of Haiti's capital, life goes on. Tire-burning roadblocks and other signs of political turbulence are depressingly familiar in Haiti.

The possibility of paralyzing protests in comings days is a big concern to Adler Augustin, a 29-year-old who has a small business inflating car tires at the side of a busy road in Port-au-Prince.

"All my work is in the streets so I'm worried I won't be able to do any business," he said.

Commission president Pierre Francois Benoit has said a random sample of 25 percent of the roughly 13,000 minutes from polling stations would be audited. In recent days, a team of police officers could be seen at a tabulation center examining thumbprints on ballot sheets.

It's far from clear whether the verification panel's findings will provide clarity to last year's elections or if its recommendations will be accepted by Haiti's political class.

Robert Fatton, a Haitian-born politics professor at the University of Virginia and the author of "The Roots of Haitian Despotism," said doubts and suspicions about the commission are an indication that Haiti's electoral impasse might actually deepen further.

"I think we are in for a bumpy ride," Fatton said in an email to The Associated Press.

Seeking stability

Interim President Jocelerme Privert, who became a caretaker president in February after a presidential runoff was scrapped for a third time, has been trying to show he can guarantee stability. But in truth, he has very limited power and the election impasse has deepened divisions in the polarized country. He has said Haiti cannot restart balloting without first restoring confidence in the electoral machinery.

International monitors who observed Haiti's October presidential first round said results putting government-backed candidate Jovenel Moise in the leading position for a two-candidate runoff appeared to be a genuine reflection of voters' will. But the tally was rejected by virtually all the other candidates, most notably the No. 2 finisher, Jude Celestin.

He called results showing Moise with nearly 33 percent of the Oct. 25 vote a "massive fraud" and many civil society groups expressed concern about the legitimacy of the vote.