PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Shops opened sporadically, the airport took in cargo flights and fewer flaming barricades blocked streets Friday as Haiti’s capital struggled to emerge from two days of riots over the disputed presidential election.
Officials worked behind the scenes to find a solution to the political crisis as an influential U.S. senator called for U.S. aid to be cut off to Haiti until a fair and democratic outcome to the election is found.
Demonstrators still clashed occasionally with U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police, but overall conditions improved somewhat as the political factions awaited the results of a recount by the country’s elections board.
Preliminary results showed that two candidates - former first lady and law professor Mirlande Manigat, and businessman Jude Celestin of the governing Unity party - were the top vote-getters in the Nov. 28 election and would compete in a January runoff.
All the candidates, including the apparent winners, claim the election was marred by fraud.
The strongest objections, however, are coming from the third-place finisher, singer Michel Martelly, whose supporters flooded the streets in protest after preliminary results said he narrowly missed the runoff. Martelly said Friday that he expected the new count of ballots by the Provisional Electoral Council, or CEP, to show he actually won the election.
“We are expecting the CEP to come back on their results and acknowledge the fraud, because it’s the people’s vote they are playing with and the people are very upset,” Martelly said. “We can only wait and hope at the same time and ask for them to wake up and do what’s right for the country.”
But even if the recount puts him in the runoff, the candidate, known on stage as “Sweet Mickey,” said he would not compete if Celestin is still in the race. He says Celestin, a member of President Rene Preval’s party, only made it to the runoff because his supporters committed fraud.
Martelly has not been offered a spot in a runoff or any other compromise, campaign strategist Damian Merlo said late Friday.
“We have not been offered anything,” Merlo said.
Martelly also said his supporters were not responsible for the violent protests that have paralyzed Haiti in recent days and blamed infiltrators from rival factions. Celestin, meanwhile, has called those who back him to take to the streets in nonviolent demonstrations. Manigat has stayed silent.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of a Senate subcommittee that oversees appropriations for Haiti, said Friday said that the election results showed the Haitian government was trying to “subvert the will of the people.”
The Vermont Democrat said President Barack Obama’s administration should withhold funding to Haiti’s government and suspend U.S. travel visas for senior Haitian officials and their family members.
Months before the election, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a report saying Haiti was not prepared to hold a credible election and called on Preval to make reforms. Preval rejected that report.
The U.S. State Department expressed concern this week that the vote did not match expectations of Haitian, U.S. and other observers and said it believed Celestin would be eliminated. But spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday that it was too early for a move like the one Leahy proposed.
“We will judge our future relationship by the actions that Haiti undertakes ... and we are committed to supporting ... this process. But let’s wait until we see what happens first and then we’ll judge the implications,” Crowley told reporters in Washington.
People in Port-au-Prince, meanwhile, were trying to get back to their daily lives while stocking up on provisions in case of further trouble. Long lines formed at gas stations, forcing some to close temporarily when crowds became unruly. Similar conditions existed at markets, where people rushed to buy water and other essentials.
But many people, including employees of U.N. and foreign non-governmental organizations, stayed off the streets, hampering efforts to help a country struggling with the aftermath of the January earthquake and a spreading cholera epidemic.
Jackson Gabriel, who lives in a Petionville encampment for people left homeless by the quake, blamed Preval for the country’s latest troubles. The people there have spent two days choking on tear gas fired by U.N. troops at protesters trying to reach an electoral council office.
“This is because of the catastrophe President Preval put the country through,” Gabriel, 28, said after waiting two hours to buy gasoline for his motorcycle so he could take a sick relative to a hospital. “There was fraud and now there are people who are sick who can’t go to the doctor.”
Cargo flights were landing at the country’s main airport but American Airlines, the largest passenger carrier to serve Haiti, said its flights were canceled at least through Monday.
Despite the chaos, former Alaska governor and U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin will visit Haiti this weekend with the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the late Rev. Billy Graham, to tour charity operations, Palin staffer Rebecca Mansour said last week.
“I am pleased that Governor Palin will accompany us on a brief trip to Haiti this weekend and I appreciate her willingness to visit Haiti during such troubled times,” Graham said in a statement. He did not release details of the trip.