PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti's much-anticipated presidential election ended Sunday as broken as the buildings around the capital city, with protests flaring across the country and nearly all the major candidates calling for the results to be tossed out amid "massive fraud."
The day's events took a sharp turn toward chaos before the polls closed, when 12 of the 19 candidates on Sunday's ballot appeared together at a raucous afternoon news conference to accuse the government of President René Préval of trying to steal the election and install his chosen candidate, Jude Celestin.
"We are asking the men and women of Haiti to organize peacefully against the Préval government," their statement said. "We are asking everyone to mobilize."
The candidates said they would meet Monday to discuss their next move.
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Sunday's fraud allegations sent U.S. officials, foreign observers and humanitarian organizations scrambling to salvage the election process, which had been billed as a critical step toward installing a legitimate government that could oversee the country's reconstruction from the Jan. 12 earthquake and manage billions in still-undelivered foreign aid.
More than a million people are living in tent camps, and a cholera epidemic has killed more than 1,500 and sickened about 25,000.
But after a day of widespread confusion, frustration and boisterous political drama, Haiti's attempt for a unifying political process appeared hopelessly flawed.
"There are high-level discussions with all partners going on about what has happened and what will happen," said Vicenzo Pugliese, a spokesman for the U.N. mission. "Let's see what the outcome of the dialogue is."
By sundown, crowds of young people were marching through downtown amid the sprawling tent camps and government-building ruins as U.N. soldiers in armored vehicles circled nearby.
Supporters of musician-turned-presidential-candidate Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly beat drums and danced and chanted that they'd been paid to vote for Celestin but picked Martelly anyway.
Tensions began building at polling stations soon after they opened Sunday, as would-be voters arrived only to find their names missing from registration lists.
"I'm an old lady. I have the right to vote," said Loucillia Marcellus, 59, standing outside the polls at a makeshift school. "They said my name is not on the list, but this is where I voted last time."