PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Haiti's electoral council invited feuding candidates to appeal the results of the disputed presidential election, re-opening a hearing process in hopes of calming unrest, international ambassadors said Sunday.
The new three-day appeals process will end Wednesday. During that time, all candidates can submit appeals ahead of the council's final count.
Protests over the apparent elimination of third-place candidate Michel Martelly in favor of government-backed contender Jude Celestin, who placed second, shut down the capital during the initial appeals period last week.
The announcement was made late Sunday in a joint statement by the envoys of the United States, France, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Spain, United Nations, European Union and Organization of American States. It came as rumors circulated in Port-au-Prince that unrest could re-start within hours.
"The international community encourages the use of all legal avenues to advance a credible electoral process to ensure that the final results fully reflect the will of the Haitian voters," the ambassadors said.
The provisional electoral council previously tried to calm tensions by announcing a retabulation of the tally sheets used in its initial count, but over the weekend both Martelly and first-place candidate Mirlande Manigat said they would not participate. A coalition of Haitian observer groups also called the re-count plan "inadequate."
Representatives of the Manigat, Celestin and Martelly campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ambassadors' statement.
The Nov. 28 election was widely criticized. Thousands of people were unable to vote and incidents of violence, voter intimidation and ballot-box stuffing were confirmed by observers including the U.N. and OAS — although both said the vote was still valid.
After the preliminary vote count was announced, the U.S. government, which paid $14 million of the $29 million election price tag, expressed concern that the vote results did not match observers' polling data.
The U.S. Embassy confirmed that Ambassador Kenneth Merten signed onto the Sunday statement but declined to comment further about the process.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont who oversees aid appropriations for Haiti, called last week to halt aid for Haiti's government and suspend visas for officials and their families until the crisis is solved. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blamed President Rene Preval for the poorly organized election.
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