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Haiti protests ease amid push for a fair vote

In the U.S., Sen. Leahy called for funding to be halted until there is a democratic election.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Shops opened sporadically, the airport took in cargo flights and fewer flaming barricades blocked streets Friday as Haiti's capital struggled to emerge from two days of riots over the disputed presidential election.

Officials worked behind the scenes to find a solution to the political crisis, as an influential U.S. senator called for U.S. aid to be cut off to Haiti until a fair and democratic outcome to the election is found.

Demonstrators still clashed occasionally with U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police, but overall conditions improved somewhat as the political factions awaited the results of a recount by the country's elections board.

Preliminary results showed that two candidates - former first lady and law professor Mirlande Manigat, and businessman Jude Celestin of the governing Unity party - were the top vote-getters in the Nov. 28 election and would compete in a January runoff. All the candidates, including the apparent winners, claim the election was marred by fraud.

The strongest objections, however, come from the third-place finisher, singer Michel Martelly, whose supporters flooded the streets in protest after preliminary results said he narrowly missed the runoff. Martelly said Friday that he expected the new count of ballots by the Provisional Electoral Council, or CEP, to show he actually won the election.

"We are expecting the CEP to come back on their results and acknowledge the fraud, because it's the people's vote they are playing with and the people are very upset," Martelly said.

But even if the recount puts him in the runoff, Martelly said he would not compete if Celestin were still in the race. He contends that Celestin, a member of President Rene Preval's party, made it to the runoff only because his supporters committed fraud.

Martelly also said his supporters were not responsible for the violent protests that have paralyzed Haiti in recent days and blamed infiltrators from rival factions. Celestin, meanwhile, has called those who back him to take to the streets in nonviolent demonstrations. Manigat has stayed silent.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), chairman of a Senate subcommittee that oversees appropriations for Haiti, said Friday that the election results showed the Haitian government was trying to "subvert the will of the people." Leahy said the U.S. should withhold funding to Haiti's government and suspend U.S. travel visas for senior Haitian officials and their family members.

The U.S. State Department expressed concern this week that the vote did not match expectations of Haitian, U.S. and other observers, and said it believed Celestin would be eliminated.

But spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday that it was too early for a move like the one Leahy proposed. "We will judge our future relationship by the actions that Haiti undertakes . . . and we are committed to supporting this process," Crowley said.