U.N. police in Haiti sent to recover election material found at dump | VailDaily.com

U.N. police in Haiti sent to recover election material found at dump

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – U.N. police rushed Wednesday to recover official voting bags, marked ballots and other election materials found in a garbage dump. Supporters of presidential candidate Rene Preval marched through the capital, claiming fraud.Associated Press journalists saw thousands of ballots, some marked for Preval, deep in the dump along with a vote tally sheet and four bags meant to carry returns from the Feb. 7 elections.With 90 percent of the returns counted, Preval was just short of the majority needed for a first-round victory. He claimed Tuesday that “massive fraud or gross errors” had been committed and vowed to challenge the results if officials insist on holding a March runoff.Local TV Tuesday night showed the discarded ballots at the dump. AP journalists who went to the fly-infested site Wednesday morning found the voting bags among the thousands of ballots, some marked, some blank. Three of the bags were signed by presidents of local election bureaus.The discovery troubled U.N. officials because the bags were not supposed to be thrown out.”They’re supposed to be kept,” U.N. official Catherine Sung, an electoral adviser who works at the main vote tabulation center, told the AP.Shown photographs of the signed bags, Sung said they were meant to contain annulled and blank votes. The journalists also saw a green tally sheet of votes, but U.N. officials said that was not important because it was a copy of the original given to political party representatives.Preval backers – who have held massive demonstrations, erected barricades and stormed into a luxury hotel this week to protest alleged fraud – said election officials were attempting to annul votes for him to force a runoff.If some of the annulled ballots and the corresponding bags have been discarded, it could skew any possible recount. Asked if it was important the bags be retained and not thrown out, Sung said: “Yes, of course.”U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst said Tuesday night after the TV news images of the dumped ballots were shown that someone may have dumped the ransacked ballots to create an appearance of fraud.When told by the AP Wednesday morning of the discovery of the bags and of a tally sheet at the site, he said: “That’s extraordinary.” U.N. police were dispatched to retrieve what they could.Hundreds of people have been carrying away the election materials, some to brandish at street protests. The reeking dump is located more than two miles down a pitted dirt road from a paved highway. The election materials were strewn over at least two acres deep in the smoldering dump.Jean-Ricot Guerrier, who lives near the site, said the election material was dumped by a truck the day after the election and that someone tried to burn the material before rainfall put out the fire. Impoverished children picking through the garbage found the ballots, he said.”We’ve been trying to call the media about this for days, but no one came until yesterday,” he said.At the dump, Cilius Apolon, 33, walked over the discarded ballots and past smashed white plastic ballot boxes, and expressed disgust.”I got up very early in the morning to vote last week,” Apolon said. “This shows disrespect for the Haitian people.”The interim government said an investigation has been launched.”We are looking closely at specimens of the ballots found at the dump, to check whether these are real ballots,” said Michel Brunache, chief of staff to interim President Boniface Alexandre.Meanwhile, foreign envoys were discussing a Brazilian plan to persuade the other candidates to recognize Preval’s victory and thus prevent a mass uprising, according to Marco Aurelio Garcia, foreign affairs adviser to Brazil’s president.Some 7,300 U.N. troops and 1,750 international police are in the country under Brazilian command, helping maintain order. The U.N. mission replaced a U.S.-led force that arrived after an uprising toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.A popularly elected government with a clear mandate is seen as crucial to avoiding a political and economic meltdown in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. Gangs have gone on kidnapping sprees and factories have closed for lack of security.Preval urged his followers Tuesday to continue protesting nonviolently. Scattered demonstrations occurred Wednesday in Port-au-Prince, with protesters waving Haitian flags and Preval posters.Haiti’s interim government ordered the count suspended with 90 percent of the votes tallied, pending a review of vote tally sheets by an investigative commission. But Max Mathurin, the electoral council president, said Wednesday that election workers were ignoring the government order and continuing to tabulate results.”The government and the established commission can’t under any circumstances ask or order the cancellation of the operations,” Mathurin told Radio Metropole. Workers have completed 92 percent of the vote count, he added, while refusing to release any more information. “When everything is ready, we’re going to publish the official results,” he said.Mathurin denied that the electoral council had manipulated the vote count. “We’re working transparently. If Preval has 50 percent plus one vote, he will be the president. If that’s not the case, there will be a second round.”The electoral council’s latest published results show Preval – a former president and agronomist – having 48.76 percent of the vote with 90 percent of ballots counted. In second place was Leslie Manigat, also a former president, with 11.8 percent.Vail, Colorado

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