Haitian President steps down amid unrest

Haitian President steps down amid unrest

Haiti delayed the start of Carnival celebrations on Sunday (February 7) because of fears of violence from anti-government protesters as President Michel Martelly ended his term with nobody elected to replace him.

Widespread unrest set off by an election that critics say was fraudulent meant the impoverished Caribbean nation was unable to hold a runoff to chose a new president before Martelly stepped down, leaving the country facing a period of interim government.

Protesters and police clashed again in downtown Port-au-Prince on Sunday in the area that hosts the capital’s heavily attended and raucous annual Mardi Gras celebrations, with some groups trying to attack Carnival stages.

The agreement was reached less than 24 hours before Martelly stepped down. Under the deal parliament will elect an interim president for a four-month term.

The temporary president, expected to be chosen in the next few days, will be committed to holding delayed presidential elections by April 24 and handing power to the winner the following month.

Speaking at the heavily guarded national assembly to hand over power, Martelly did not dress up the transition as smooth or perfect.

“I said that I am not going to hand over the country to anyone who doesn’t believe in elections, that I am not going to hand over power without the guarantee the country is stable. After various meetings with the president of the Senate, with the deputies, with the various political leaders of this country, they gave me the guarantee that I can go calmly, that they are going to do everything possible so the country is stable,” he said.

A presidential runoff due to be held last month was scrapped after opposition candidate Jude Celestin threatened to boycott the vote over allegations of fraud in the first round, and protesters took to the streets in force.

Martelly continued to accept his share of the blame.

“History will remember my failure that I am responsible for, and I alone, for these delayed elections,” he said.

He pleaded for help, on behalf of Haiti.

“I take advantage of this occasion to invite the nations friends with Haiti to remain on Haiti‘s side helping us monitoring our young democracy, with appreciation for them, telling them that we understand and appreciate all the efforts that have been made for Haiti. We understand what they want is for us to be beautiful, but it is we who ought to unite so we can turn out beautiful,” he said.

Martelly handed over the presidential sash during a ceremony at the national assembly, attended by parliamentarians who under a last-minute deal will choose an interim president until a new leader is elected.

Martelly himself rose to fame as a risque singer known for Carnival performances. He has released a new song with sexually suggestive lyrics that insult a female journalist. There had been speculation he would return to Carnival floats to perform the song after his presidency ended.

The last day of Carnival was canceled in 2015 after at least 16 people were killed in a stampede set off when a singer on a float hit an overhead power line in Port-au-Prince.

Assembly President Jocelerme Privert called for a “truce” to allow enough stability to organize the elections, already postponed three times, most recently in January. The vote is now set for April 24 and an elected president is supposed to take office in May.

The interim government will have to overcome disagreements about which candidates can participate in the election, since many are convinced the first round was riddled with fraud that favoured ruling party candidate Jovenel Moise.

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