Protesters storm hotel with Haitian election offices

U.N. peacekeepers opened fire Monday on protesters, killing at least one and wounding four, witnesses said. Flaming roadblocks paralyzed the Haitian capital and protesters stormed a hotel where election officials have been announcing results of presidential elections. The protests erupted amid increasing anger at vote counts showing that leading candidate Rene Preval may have fallen short of the 50 percent needed to win the presidency outright and avoid a runoff.

Associated Press journalists saw the body of a man on a street in the Tabarre neighborhood, his blood-soaked T-shirt bearing the image of leading candidate Rene Preval. Witnesses said Jordanian U.N. peacekeepers opened fire, killing two people and wounding four. The body of the second victim was not seen.

"We were peacefully protesting when the U.N. started shooting. There were a lot of shots. Everybody ran," said Walrick Michel, 22, one of the pro-Preval protesters. U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst denied in a phone interview that peacekeepers opened fire.

In the hills above Port-au-Prince, in Petionville, hundreds of screaming protesters stormed into the upscale Montana hotel, where election officials have announced results of Tuesday's elections. Protesters have alleged the electoral commission is manipulating the vote count to prevent Preval from winning a first-round victory in this battered and impoverished Caribbean nation.

Helicopters landed on the roof to evacuate people, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu. At church services Sunday, South African had appealed for calm as election results trickled in. No violence was reported at the hotel.

Preval supporters erected roadblocks throughout Port-au-Prince, paralyzing the capital, to demand he be declared the winner of Haiti's elections. Some barricades made of old tires were set ablaze, sending plumes of acrid black smoke into the sky. Protesters let only journalists and Red Cross vehicles pass.

With about 90 percent of the vote counted, Preval was leading with 48.7 percent of the vote, Haiti's electoral council said on its Web site. His nearest opponent was Leslie Manigat, another former president, who had 11.8 percent.

But of the 2.2 million ballots cast, about 125,000 ballots have been declared invalid because of irregularities, raising suspicion among Preval supporters that polling officials are trying to steal the election. Another 4 percent of the ballots were blank but were still added into the total, making it harder for Preval to obtain the 50 percent plus one vote needed.

Throngs of Preval supporters poured into the streets, chanting angry allegations of fraud, after two members of Haiti's electoral council questioned the counting procedures. Electoral council member Pierre Richard Duchemin said he was being denied access to information about the tabulation process and called for an investigation.

"According to me, there's a certain level of manipulation," Duchemin told The Associated Press, adding that "there is an effort to stop people from asking questions." Earlier Monday, Preval supporters blew horns and pounded drums outside the electoral center, denouncing Jacques Bernard, director-general of the nine-member electoral council, as a "thief."

"He doesn't know how to count!" they chanted as police held them off with rifles and shotguns. Bernard has denied accusations that the council voided many votes for Preval. Blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers deployed across the capital and blocked chanting Preval supporters from reaching the Montana Hotel, where the electoral council abruptly canceled a Sunday evening press conference, reports the AP.


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