Port-au-Prince descended into chaos as supporters of popular musician and presidential candidate Michel Martelly, who failed to qualify for an election run-off in results announced by Haitian electoral authorities, set up burning barricades of timber, boulders and flaming tires.
Preliminary results from the turbulent November 28 elections showed former first lady Mirlande Manigat and outgoing president Rene Preval protege Jude Celestin both in the January run-off, with Martelly narrowly in third place and so excluded.
The unrest, which was also reported in at least one other town in the poor, volatile Caribbean country, appeared to dash international hopes that the UN-backed elections could create a stable new leadership for Haiti, which is struggling to recover from a devastating January earthquake.
The protesters in Port-au-Prince set fire to the headquarters of Preval’s ruling (Inite) coalition. Businesses and schools stayed closed and many fearful residents stayed home, off the rubble-strewn streets. Plumes of black smoke rose above the sprawling, crowded city, which still bears the scars of the January 12 earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest state, which is also battling a raging cholera epidemic.
The protests erupted in the Petionville, Delmas and Canape Vert districts of the capital, among other areas.
Local radio also reported protests in the southern town of Les Cayes in which Martelly supporters burned down government buildings, including the tax and customs offices.
Shouting slogans against Preval, the enraged protesters carried sticks and portraits of Martelly, a star of Haiti’s Kompa music who has already accused the president of trying to rig the election in favour of Celestin, a government technocrat.