PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti's electoral council will re-count the vote in the country's disputed election with the three leading candidates present, the council president said Thursday.
The decision follows rioting sparked by the announcement that government-backed candidate Jude Celestin and former first lady Mirlande Manigat were poised to enter a January runoff, while entertainer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly had apparently been narrowly eliminated.
Council president Gaillot Dorsainvil read a statement on Haitian radio, saying the ballots would be re-counted with international observers and electoral officials watching. He invited the three top candidates to monitor it.
Nearly all of the 19 candidates on the Nov. 28 ballot have said fraud tainted the results. A coalition of at least 10 candidates reiterated their call Thursday for the vote to be annulled.
Martelly's supporters again paralyzed streets in the capital, piling earthquake rubble into barricades and squaring off with police and U.N. peacekeepers. On Wednesday, the candidate told his supporters to continue demonstrating, and a campaign manager said he would legally challenge the announced results.
The U.S. Embassy has said the preliminary results appeared to conflict with reports from observers who monitored the count.
The protests arise out of widespread anger at outgoing President Rene Preval and his preferred successor, Celestin, the head of the state-run construction company.
Protesters set fire to the headquarters of Preval's Unity party, traded blows with U.N. peacekeepers and shut down the country's lone international airport.
A light rain that fell through the night and continued through the morning Thursday extinguished burning piles of tires and dampened the protests. Barricades still blocked intersections throughout the capital, but Associated Press journalists saw fewer protesters. The crowd outside the electoral council headquarters in the suburb of Petionville had also diminished.
Preval earlier urged the candidates to call off the protests. He acknowledged there had been fraud in the election, but said it was typical of elections around the world.
"This is not how the country is supposed to work," he told demonstrators in a live radio speech. "People are suffering because of all this damage."
The fallout from the fraud-riddled shut down cities across impoverished Haiti at a moment when medical aid workers need to tackle a surging cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 2,000 lives.
Haiti's Radio Kiskeya said in an unconfirmed report that at least four demonstrators were killed — three in Les Cayes, about 120 miles (193 kilometers) west of Port-au-Prince in the country's southern peninsula, and one in the northern city of Cap-Haitien.
Preval on Wednesday criticized U.S. expressions of doubt about the results, saying, "The American Embassy is not the (electoral council)."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. is not fomenting the unrest.
"The United States is in no way responsible for the actions of any individual. What we are determined to help Haiti achieve is a credible election and a result — not one that the United States will impose — but one that the people of Haiti can participate in fully," he told reporters in Washington.
Preval's administration has been condemned by many Haitians for failing to spearhead reconstruction of the country after the January earthquake. More than an estimated 1 million people still live under tarps and tents and little of the promised international aid from the United States and other countries has arrived.
Preliminary election results put Celestin ahead of Martelly by just 6,845 votes for second place. Former first lady and law professor Manigat had 31.4 percent of the vote, while Celestin had 22.5 percent and Martelly 21.8 percent.
The top two candidates advance to a Jan. 16 second round.
Manigat also told Haitian radio that she felt her reported vote tally was low. Celestin's managers said before the election that they had expected both a first-round victory and to be accused of fraud.
Thousands were disenfranchised by confusion on the rolls, which were overstuffed with earthquake dead but lacked many living voters. There were reported incidents of ballot-stuffing, violence and intimidation confirmed by international observers, but U.N. peacekeepers and the joint Organization of American States-Caribbean Community observer mission said the problems did not invalidate the vote.
Turnout was low. Just over 1 million people cast accepted ballots out of some 4.7 million registered voters. It is not known how many ballots were thrown out for fraud.
Martelly had joined with 11 other candidates, including Manigat, to accuse Preval of trying to steal the election while polls were still open.
An appeals period is open and election observers said a third candidate might be included in the runoff if the electoral council decides the first-round vote was close enough — though the constitutionality of such a move would be debatable.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern "about allegations of fraud" and "the acts of violence that have taken place in the aftermath of the announcement," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said at U.N. headquarters in New York.
American Airlines canceled all flights in and out of the Haitian capital because airport employees were unable to get to work Wednesday because of demonstrations, spokeswoman Martha Pantin said. Flights will also be canceled on Thursday.