Haiti heads for elections, police keep marches apart

Thu Nov 25, 2010 5:51pm EST
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By Pascal Fletcher

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Armed Haitian police kept apart boisterous supporters of rival presidential candidates in Port-au-Prince on Thursday as the earthquake-hit Caribbean country heads for turbulent elections this weekend in the grip of a cholera epidemic.

Sporadic violence, including street clashes between protesters and U.N. peacekeepers in Port-au-Prince and the northern city of Cap-Haitien, has added the stench of burning tires and tear gas to the stink of squalor and disease from overflowing cholera hospitals and earthquake survivor camps.

Separate marches by backers of two leading presidential contenders -- Jude Celestin, a protege of outgoing President Rene Preval, and popular musician "Sweet Micky" Martelly -- clogged streets in the sprawling capital on Thursday but police armed with shotguns and pistols stopped them from clashing.

Sunday's presidential and legislative elections are going ahead despite the huge challenges of holding a nationwide poll in the Western Hemisphere's poorest state.

Haiti, its infrastructure already weak, is recovering from a devastating earthquake in January and battling a worsening cholera epidemic that has already killed 2,000 people.

The international community, represented by a 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti, is insisting the political and security risks of postponing Sunday's elections are far greater than any current threats of violence or disruption.

"It is better to have elections as soon as possible than to delay them," Edmond Mulet, the head of the U.N. mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), told a news conference in Port-au-Prince.

"If we don't have elections now, when? ... Are we going to wait a year in Haiti to have elections? What will happen in the meantime? Vacuum of power, uncertainty, chaos?"   Continued...