Haiti protesters want Preval out

Mon Feb 7, 2011 2:47pm EST
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By Allyn Gaestel

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Several hundred protesters clashed with riot police in Haiti's capital on Monday to demand that outgoing President Rene Preval leave office immediately as the country moved toward a deciding presidential run-off vote.

The police, backed by United Nations peacekeepers who were standing by, fired shots in the air and tear gas canisters to keep the chanting, stone-throwing demonstrators back from the presidential palace in central Champs de Mars square in Port-au-Prince. "Preval must go," the demonstrators yelled.

Tear gas canisters fell into a crowded tent camp in the square housing thousands of survivors from Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake, and the stinging smoke sent women and children fleeing, the women howling angrily in protest.

A deciding second round of Haiti's presidential election is scheduled to be held on March 20 to choose a successor to Preval, whose five-year mandate nominally ends today February 7 in the poor, earthquake-battered Caribbean nation.

A chaotic first round of U.N.-backed presidential and legislative elections held on November 28 led to weeks of fraud allegations and sporadic protests, raising fears prolonged political unrest could jeopardize delivery of billions of dollars of post-quake reconstruction aid.

Preval, who could not stand for another consecutive term, has parliament approval to stay on if necessary until May 14 so he can hand over to an elected successor, but some opponents want him to step down in favor of a provisional government.

"Today at noon, Preval's mandate expires. He will no longer be the constitutional president. We are going to block the whole country to make him go," said Michel Frederick, 40, one of the demonstrators.

The protesters battled with dozens of riot police, setting tires and piles of garbage ablaze and trying to break through crash barriers in front of the quake-damaged white palace. The protesters also threw stones at U.N. vehicles.   Continued...

<p>Haitians march in the streets protesting against the government in Port-au-Prince February 7, 2011. REUTERS/St-Felix Evens</p>