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Haiti Weighs Delay in Presidential Runoff Vote

FILE - Presidential candidate Jude Celestin holds a news conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Nov. 6, 2015.

Haiti could postpone a presidential runoff election if the opposition commits to taking part at a later date, Prime Minister Evans Paul said Wednesday, adding that the January 24 vote would go ahead if there was no deal to end a political stalemate.

The Caribbean nation has been rocked by protests this week after opposition candidate Jude Celestin vowed to boycott the vote over alleged fraud in the first round. The runoff has already been postponed twice during an inquiry into the allegations.

"We are in the middle of a series of negotiations," Paul told Reuters. "President [Michel] Martelly and I have been talking about the possibility of considering a postponement of Sunday's election."

Elections and transfers of power in Haiti have long been plagued by instability. The nation of about 10 million people has struggled to build a stable democracy since the overthrow of the Duvalier family dictatorship in 1986 and ensuing military coups and election fraud.

Under the constitution, a new president should be in place by February 7, but Martelly's five-year term ends in May, potentially leaving room for flexibility around the dates.

Under discussion is a possible March election, but the two sides differ on whether Martelly should stay in office until a new president is sworn in.

Opposition parties have been pushing for an interim government to be set up. They want Martelly to leave office by the constitutional deadline.

Martelly has repeatedly opposed the idea of an interim government, a move he said could plunge the country into deep political uncertainty.

Paul said any delay would have to be matched with a commitment from Celestin to participate in a runoff at a later date.

"President Martelly and I are open to consider such a possibility. But it would not be responsible to postpone the election sine die, vaguely hoping that Mr. Celestin would agree one day to change position," he said.

Paul said that for now the election was set for Sunday.