Protesters enraged by the results of Haiti’s troubled presidential election torched barricades and political offices, traded blows with United Nations peacekeepers and shut down the country’s lone international airport.
The protests created the social upheaval many had feared since the deadly January 12 earthquake.
The fallout from the November 28 election, riddled by fraud, is shutting down cities across the impoverished country with gunfire and barricades at a moment when medical aid workers need to tackle a surging cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 2,000 lives.
Haiti’s Radio Metropole said at least one demonstrator was killed in Les Cayes, about 120 miles west of the capital Port-au-Prince in the country’s southern peninsula.
The protesters back a popular carnival singer who narrowly lost a spot in a run-off election to Jude Celestin, a political unknown viewed by supporters and detractors alike as a continuation of unpopular President Rene Preval’s administration.
The US embassy criticised the preliminary results on Tuesday, saying Haitian, US and other international monitors had predicted that Mr Celestin was likely to be eliminated in the first round.
Demonstrators carried pink signs with the smiling face and bald head of their candidate, Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly. They decorated barricades with empty ballot boxes, used government campaign posters to start fires and challenged heavily armoured foreign soldiers to near-theatrical confrontations.
Outside the provisional electoral council headquarters, a former gym in the suburb of Petionville, young men wearing their shirts as masks threw rocks at UN troops.
The soldiers – Indians and Pakistanis working as a single unit – responded with exploding canisters of tear gas that washed over a nearby earthquake refugee camp, sending mothers fleeing with their crying children in tow.
Protesters set fire to the headquarters of Mr Preval and Mr Celestin’s Unity party. “We want Martelly. The whole world wants Martelly,” said James Becimus, a 32-year-old protester near the US embassy. “Today we set fires, tomorrow we bring weapons.”