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Haiti anxiously awaits delayed vote results

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Feb 3 – Haitians were left waiting Thursday for promised presidential poll results set to determine who will qualify for the election run-off, as officials failed to release the outcome.

"We have been working through the night and will continue to work on it this morning, but we are not quite ready," election official Jacques Belzin told AFP on Wednesday, adding he hoped the results would be announced later in the day.

As of 2:30 am (0730 GMT) Thursday, reporters were waiting at a planned press conference, but no results had been released.

Meanwhile, international security forces were gearing up for renewed unrest.

UN police forces deployed in the city Wednesday afternoon and were patrolling certain crosspoints as UN vehicles could be seen on some streets.

"We have people deployed in certain strategic places in the capital and in the regions ahead of the results," UN police force spokesman Jean-Francois Vezina told AFP.

"These are special deployments in case the results trigger unease. We want to say that our presence is not aimed at stopping people from protesting, but ensuring there is order and security for the population," he added.

The streets of the capital Port-au-Prince remained calm although residents rushed to stock up on food and water, and banks businesses announced they were shutting two hours early.

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Preliminary results from the November 28 presidential poll released in December sparked several days of riots and unrest, which left five dead in Haitian cities.

The electoral council said last week that final results from the first round of the elections would be announced on Wednesday.

Quake-hit Haiti voted late last year, but more than two months later it remains unclear who will be on the final ballot come March 20 when a new leader is chosen to rebuild the shattered Caribbean nation.

The disputed first round descended into chaos when the ruling party\’s Jude Celestin was awarded second place ahead of Michel Martelly, a popular singer.

Violent protests followed in December and several people died before President Rene Preval summoned an international vote verification team to check the results amid widespread allegations of fraud.

The Organization of American States (OAS) monitors found enough rigging in Celestin\’s favor to recommend the results be switched to put Martelly in the run-off against Mirlande Manigat, a 70-year-old former first lady.

Preval and the Haitian electoral commission have come under strong international pressure, led by the United States, to honor the OAS report and make the switch.

The ruling INITE (Unity) party has said it was withdrawing its support for Celestin, but Preval\’s handpicked protege apparently has refused to sign the necessary documentation to annul his candidacy.

It remains unclear whether the Provisional Electoral Council will allow Celestin to keep his place, change the results to allow Martelly in or possibly even announce a three-way race.

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Belzin said the commission had reviewed 106 contested tally sheets, as lawyers for both Martelly and Celestin argued their client had the right to stand in the run-off.

The nation\’s political turmoil deepened earlier this month when former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier returned unexpectedly.

And in another potential twist, the government said Monday it was ready to issue a new passport to a second ghost from the past, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Since Duvalier\’s return from exile, rights activists have filed a slew of lawsuits against him over alleged rights violations, torture and embezzlement during his time in power.

The Swiss government on Wednesday took a new step in its bid to return Duvalier\’s millions frozen in his account to Haiti by moving to confiscate the money.

Duvalier has not picked a side in the political showdown, but older Haitians remember his 15-year rule as a time of repression when opponents were rounded up by the feared Tonton Macoutes secret police and silenced.

Results of the March 20 second-round run-off are due to be announced on April 16, according to the delayed timetable proposed last week by the electoral commission.

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