Haiti protesters riot over delayed elections

Police fired tear gas and water cannons in an effort to disperse the crowd of protesters. Picture: Getty

Police fired tear gas and water cannons in an effort to disperse the crowd of protesters. Picture: Getty

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PROTESTERS have burned tyres and thrown rocks and bottles at riot police during another anti-government demonstration in Haiti’s capital, amid a bitter political stalemate over long-delayed elections.

The demonstration, by mostly young men, reached a peak of about 1,500 in central Port-au-Prince as protesters called for the departure of president Michel Martelly, who took office in May 2011 and is due to leave next year.

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Police fired tear gas and water cannon in an effort to disperse the crowd at a plaza close to where the National Palace stood before it collapsed in Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.

There has been no let-up in Haitian protests since last month’s resignation of Mr Martelly’s prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, and other concessions aimed at resolving the stalemate holding up legislative elections. A presidential commission had called for Mr Lamothe’s resignation, among other measures, to resolve the gridlock that has sparked protests.

Riche Clebert, a snack vendor who did not participate in Saturday’s demonstration, said he had grown weary of the cycle of political protests, which often end with violence near the old National Palace site.

“I have three children to feed and I have lost all patience with this. This is not leading our country anywhere,” Mr Clebert said as he clutched his tray of sugary breads and watched dozens of young men running from billowing clouds of tear gas.

After fleeing a blast from a water cannon, protester Jean Junior said Mr Martelly had to go. “Haiti cannot continue like this because the population has not benefited from this government,” he said.

Haiti faces an uncertain political future in the coming days with the terms of all members of both legislative houses expiring today, exactly five years after the devastating earthquake struck the nation of ten million people. If a last-minute agreement is not reached through negotiations with political opponents, Mr Martelly will rule by decree starting next week.

He was supposed to call elections in 2011 for a majority of Senate seats, the entire Chamber of Deputies and local offices. But opposition politicians have used parliamentary procedure to prevent the ballots while accusing the president of abusing his authority to appoint supporters to the electoral council.

The country has faced mounting pressure from the UN, US and others to organise a vote before parliament is dissolved, but recent talks between Mr Martelly and senators have not solved the problem.

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