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Haiti Runoff election off to rocky start

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The closely watched presidential runoff election got off to a wobbly start yesterday, as anger welled at several polling stations in the capital that still had not opened hours after the scheduled time.

At five of six precincts visited in the morning, shrugging electoral workers said that ballot boxes, ink, and other voting materials had not been delivered, preventing them from opening the doors.

In the streets, seething crowds of would-be voters warned there would be trouble if the government didn't let them in.

"We're going to tear this place down!" shouted an exasperated crowd that had been waiting three hours outside the metal doors of a school south of downtown.

Edgy police armed with clubs and shotguns stood by at several locations where similar irregularities occurred during the first round of voting Nov. 28, leading to riots. That round of flawed balloting resulted in a political crisis that took weeks for international monitors to sort out.

Turnout did not appear to be heavy, as many stayed away from polls, while other voters who did arrive early simply walked away in disgust.

The runoff election for president and legislature is seen as an essential step in the country's rebuilding process following the devastating January 2010 earthquake.

More than a year after the disaster killed 200,000 people, more than a million Haitians are still living in squalid tent camps.

The runoff sets singer-turned-politician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, 50, against Mirlande Manigat, 70, a university scholar and former first lady.

Martelly seems to have the most momentum in the race, particularly among urban youth, and he has insisted that the outgoing government of René Préval would sabotage the process to keep him from winning.

Some 200 international observers are on hand to monitor the vote. Preliminary results are not expected until March 31, and the full count is due on April 16.


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