Ex-coup leader threatens division of Haiti as unrest spreads

Port-au-Prince: A former Haitian coup leader wanted by the United States for smuggling cocaine has called on his supporters to resist "anarchists" who forced a presidential election to be cancelled, in a fresh sign that the current unrest may grow.

The former rebel, Guy Philippe, called for counter-protests and said he would not recognise any transitional government put in place when outgoing President Michel Martelly leaves office on February 7 unless it was representative of the provinces.

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Haitians protest cancelled elections

Demonstrators take to the streets of Port-au-Prince to protest on what was supposed to be election day in Haiti.

"We are ready for war," Mr Philippe said. "We will divide the country."

It is not clear how much support Mr Philippe can muster, but he remains popular in his southern stronghold of Grande-Anse and the tone of his remarks points to the depth of polarisation over the political crisis.

Haiti was due to choose Mr Martelly's replacement on Sunday, but the two-man race was postponed indefinitely after opposition candidate Jude Celestin refused to participate over alleged fraud that sparked anti-government protests and violence. 

Mr Martelly says the fraud claims are unfounded, but critics believe he unfairly favoured his chosen successor, banana exporter Jovenel Moise, who came first in the first round of voting in October.


At a news conference on Saturday, Mr Moise criticised the decision to delay the elections.

"What I don't fully understand in the decision of the Provisional Electoral Council is that they postponed the election of the 24th of January just like they postponed the elections of the 27th of December without saying when the elections will take place," he said.

Mr Martelly, a former Carnival singer known as Sweet Micky, is blamed for the electoral crisis because he failed to hold elections during his five years in office. The terms of every elected official in the country eventually expired, leaving Mr Martelly to rule by decree for a year.

He was also criticised for efforts to change municipal boundaries in an area where he owns property and for creating a police brigade accused of repressive tactics.

Opposition leader Assad Volcy said that while the elections' postponement was a victory, "the demands have now changed. Michel Martelly cannot be part of the solution. He will leave power."

Around him groups of young men, faces covered with T-shirts and bandannas to repel tear gas, had blocked the streets with rocks.

The October presidential race, in which 54 candidates competed, was mired in fraud, according to opposition leaders and human rights groups. 

On the day, the elections board distributed special passes to 900,000 observers from all political parties, who were allowed to vote outside their home precincts. Human rights groups said party loyalists used the accreditations to cast multiple ballots.

The United States and international observer groups said quick counts showed that the results of the race were accurate, despite the irregularities.

The US State Department issued a statement on Sunday condemning the protests. It called for accountability for any violence related to the delayed election, saying electoral intimidation and destruction of property were "unacceptable".

Given the short timeline, some form of interim government is likely to be formed to oversee the election process.

The latest proposal calls for Haiti to be governed by a consensus prime minister under a transitional government lasting no more than 120 days.

Mr Martelly would still leave office on February 7, as mandated by the constitution, but he would be allowed to swear in a new president who would take office no later than April 14.

However either Mr Moise nor Mr Celestin would be a party to this proposal.

​On Sunday, Moise supporters in favour of holding the election protested for the first time, using trucks to block a northern highway that is a major trade route with the neighbouring Dominican Republic, regional police chief Charles Nazaire Noel said.

Meanwhile, anti-government protesters gathered in a downtown area of Port-au-Prince still largely ruined from an earthquake six years ago. They sang and danced around a bonfire in the street to the thump of a sound system before setting out for the fifth mass march this week.

"Martelly believes the country is for himself and his family, we want him to go," said Dorval, a 40-year-old unemployed man.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has been unable to build a stable democracy since the 1986 overthrow of the Duvalier family after three decades of tyranny and ensuing military coups and election fraud.

A former police officer accused by Human Rights Watch of overseeing extra-judicial killings, Mr Philippe in 2004 led bands of former soldiers to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and overthrew the chaotic government of then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The US Drug Enforcement Agency has a long-standing arrest warrant against Mr Philippe for alleged cocaine trafficking and money laundering. The DEA has tried to capture him twice.

Mr Philippe denies the accusations and says the United States has no legal authorisation to make arrests on Haitian soil.

Reuters, TNS, New York Times