Haiti simmers amid vote limbo, anti-cholera attacks

Tensions simmered in Haiti Thursday with its political future hanging in the balance, as protesters renewed charges of vote-rigging and cholera fears led to deadly mob violence, Agence France Presse reports.

As vote-counting continued ahead of the expected release of preliminary results on Tuesday, candidates in last weekend’s presidential and legislative elections remained split over whether to endorse the outcome. With the impoverished Caribbean nation in limbo, several hundred opposition demonstrators peacefully took to the streets of Port-au-Prince seeking annulment of the vote to determine the successor to René Préval.

“Arrest Préval!… Cancel the Election!” the protesters shouted as they made their way to the headquarters of the election commission, which was guarded by blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers and Haitian anti-riot police.

“Our message is clear: We want Préval to go and we do not want elections with him in power,” said candidate Jacques Edouard Alexis.

Twelve of the 18 contenders rejected Sunday’s election shortly after polls closed, but the following day longtime opposition leader and pre-election favorite Mirlande Manigat and popular musician Michel Martelly, another leading candidate, reversed their calls for the polls to be scrapped.

An unexpected admission from the ruling INITE (UNITY) party that its candidate Jude Celestin may have lost has fueled a sense that Haiti could experience a political watershed if the dysfunctional, failing nation is able to manage a relatively peaceful transition of power.

International monitors — while acknowledging widespread problems including violence and claims of fraud — declared the elections valid. Final results are expected on December 20.

But the stubborn cholera epidemic, which has claimed more than 1,800 lives since mid-October, cast a shadow over the first election since a massive earthquake tore the country apart in January, killing some 250,000 people.

The epidemic took a ghastly turn Thursday when officials revealed that at least 12 people had been stoned or hacked to death in the last week by angry mobs accusing them of trying to spread cholera through witchcraft. “Their corpses were burned in the streets” in the far southwest area of Grand Anse, the region in Haiti least affected by the disease, local prosecutor Kesner Numa told AFP. “These people were accused (by the mobs) of witchcraft related to cholera,” said Numa, adding that their attackers believed the victims were trying to “plant a substance that spreads the disease in the region.”

Local communities were refusing to cooperate with investigations of the killings there, officials said.

Suspicion about the outbreak has swept through Haiti, where many accuse UN peacekeepers of having imported the disease.

According to the latest official cholera tally, 1,817 people have died and a total of 80,860 cases have been recorded, with 36,207 hospitalizations.

On Wednesday the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said the epidemic continued to spread throughout the country but was less lethal.

“We went from nine percent of cases dying in the early days to 2.3 percent now,” said Donna Eberwine-Villagran, a spokeswoman for PAHO, a local branch of the World Health Organization.

She warned, however, that the official toll was an underestimation, and that Haiti could see up to 400,000 infections over the next 12 months.

Amid the epidemic and the election tensions, the president’s already tarnished image suffered further with the release of a leaked US diplomatic cable that portrayed him as seeking to “orchestrate” the vote.

“Close friends speculate that many of Préval’s actions during the past year… stem from his very real fear that politics will prohibit him from returning to private life in Haiti after his presidency,” a June 2009 cable by Washington’s then-ambassador said.

“Thus, they argue, his overriding goal is to orchestrate the 2011 presidential transition in such a way as to ensure that whoever is elected will allow him to go home unimpeded.”

Haiti has been plagued by dictatorships and political upheaval, and several past leaders have fled or been forced into exile, including Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president

For the original AFP report go to  http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gk_FU_dwxdIJzfSSz8IyS3oSsL6g?docId=CNG.f9a0b4d03dfba10ea4d940df1f67012d.451

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