Stores close early as Haiti awaits prez vote results

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Banks and stores closed early and people rushed to get home in the capital Wednesday as Haitians feared unrest with the expected announcement of final results from the disputed presidential election.

The provisional electoral commission was scheduled to announce which two of the three front-running candidates from the November ballot would get spots in a March runoff.

Preliminary results showing government-backed candidate Jude Celestin edging out popular singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly set off often violent protests in December. Those figures were released late in the evening in a failed effort to head off unrest.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton flew to Port-au-Prince on Sunday to meet with all three candidates and reaffirm in person to President Rene Preval that Washington backed an Organization of American States report recommending that Celestin be dropped from the race.

But on Tuesday rumors spread through the capital that the report would be rejected, either by putting Celestin in the next round or canceling the election altogether.

Annulling the election outright could also ruin the advantage of first-place candidate Mirlande Manigat, a conservative former first lady whose supporters have protested violently in her favor, mainly in the countryside.

“Haiti awaits the final presidential results with trepidation,” Radio Kiskeya said on its website. Radio Metropole said, “Nobody knows what will happen during these next few hours, which may be crucial for the future of the country.”

The Nov. 28 first round included widespread disorganization, violence, intimidation, fraud and a call on election day from nearly every candidate — including Martelly and Manigat — to cancel the vote while it was going on.

An OAS team recommended that recalculating the results based on estimates of fraud would create a Manigat-Martelly faceoff in the runoff.

Preval’s five-year term had been scheduled to end Monday. An emergency law passed by members of his former party in an expiring Senate would allow him to remain in office for up to three more months, in part because his 2006 inauguration was delayed.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.