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Haiti candidate refuses to confirm exit

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 28 – Presidential candidate Jude Celestin refused to confirm that he was withdrawing from Haiti\’s disputed electoral race after the ruling party pulled its support for him.

The ruling INITE (Unity) party bowed to weeks of US-led pressure on Wednesday and said it was pulling Celestin out of the presidential run-off after he was found to have benefited from widespread fraud.

"Even though we are certain Jude Celestin received the necessary number of votes and was therefore through to the second round, INITE (Unity) has agreed to withdraw his candidacy for the presidency," a party statement said.

But Celestin\’s spokesman told AFP on Wednesday that the statement still needed the candidate\’s signature and had not been sent to the electoral commission.

The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) "cannot act without the endorsement of the candidate," the spokesman, Richard Dumel, said.

So far, "the CEP has not received an official document either from the party or the candidate certifying the withdrawal of Mr. Celestin."

Under Haiti\’s electoral law "only the candidate, by way of a legal document, can withdraw from the race," Dumel stressed.

The spokesman did not say if Celestin had made a decision.

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According to preliminary results from the November 28 first round poll, Celestin garnered 7,000 more votes than popular singer Michel Martelly, securing a place in a run-off against former first lady Mirlande Manigat.

Within hours of the announcement, protests swept Haitian towns, leaving five dead and the country in crisis as opposition candidates accused President Rene Preval and the electoral commission of rigging the poll.

A team of international monitors called in by Preval found widespread vote tampering and fraud in Celestin\’s favor, and recommended he should withdraw from the race and leave the field clear for a Martelly-Manigat battle.

The second round, originally scheduled for January 16, has been indefinitely postponed, even though Preval is due to step down in early February and hand over leadership of the poorest country in the Americas.


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