Protesters call for Préval's removal

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The Independent US

Protesters demanding that Haiti's outgoing President René Préval leave office immediately set up burning barricades yesterday and threw stones at police and UN peacekeepers.

The police, backed by United Nations peacekeepers who were standing by, fired shots in the air and tear gas canisters to keep the chanting, stone-throwing demonstrators back from the presidential palace in central Champs de Mars square in Port-au-Prince. "Preval must go," the demonstrators yelled.

Tear gas canisters fell into a crowded tent camp in the square housing thousands of survivors from Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake, and the stinging smoke sent women and children fleeing, the women howling angrily in protest.

A deciding second round of Haiti's presidential election is scheduled to be held on March 20 to choose a successor to Preval, whose five-year mandate nominally ends today Feb. 7 in the poor, earthquake-battered Caribbean nation.

A chaotic first round of UN-backed presidential and legislative elections held on 28 November led to weeks of fraud allegations and sporadic protests, raising fears prolonged political unrest could jeopardize delivery of billions of dollars of post-quake reconstruction aid.

Preval, who could not stand for another consecutive term, has parliament approval to stay on if necessary until May 14 so he can hand over to an elected successor, but some opponents want him to step down in favor of a provisional government.