Second-place finisher cut from Haitian runoff ballot

Haitian election officials say former first lady Mirlande Manigat and popular singer Michel Martelly will face off in the presidential runoff election set for March 20.

The electoral commission’s announcement Thursday means ruling party candidate Jude Celestin is out of the race — an outcome supported by the international community.

The long-awaited final results of the disputed November election differ from preliminary results, which put Celestin in the runoff with Manigat.

The national coordinator for the ruling party, Sen. Joseph Lambert, told the French news agency that the party accepts removing Celestin from the race to avoid economic sanctions against Haiti and to ease social tensions.

The head of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, expressed respect for the results Thursday, and said the group hopes that they are received in an environment of trust and tranquility.

A recent organization report, backed by the United States, recommended that Martelly be placed in the runoff instead of Celestin, citing irregularities and fraud in the balloting.

The U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Merten, called Thursday a “good day in Haiti” and said the United States is pleased that the election commission seems to have been very diligent in following recommendations. He urged all Haitians to remain calm and peaceful.

Riots erupted in December after the electoral commission initially announced that Martelly was eliminated, with his supporters accusing the Haitian government of vote-rigging.

Many banks and other businesses closed early Wednesday because of fears the new results could trigger violence. But the streets were calm Thursday after the announcement.

Adding to political tensions in Haiti was the surprise return last month of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier after 25 years in exile.

A second exiled Haitian leader, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, also contributed to the political suspense, after the government said it would grant him a diplomatic passport to return to Haiti.

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