Haiti election results could be delayed for weeks

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ The Organization of American States has asked Haitian President Rene Preval to delay announcing election results until an international panel of experts can review the vote, officials said Saturday.

Final results from the Nov. 28 first round _ showing which of the top three quarreling candidates would go on to a January runoff - were expected Monday.

Holding off an announcement would postpone conflicts between supporters, which resulted in riots and deadly clashes this month. But the panel of up to five electoral, legal and information-technology experts has not even been formed, and waiting for its review could drag into the new year.

``To be honest I'm not sure how long it will take,'' OAS Assistant Secretary-General Albert Ramdin told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. ``This is a very difficult time to put a team together. ... Many experts are going home for Christmas to see their families.''

OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza asked Preval for the delay.

Preval agreed to submit the request to Haiti's provisional electoral council after ``intense discussions'' between the OAS, electoral officials, business leaders, observers, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, and resident ambassadors in Haiti, the OAS said in a statement.

Preval's office could not be reached for comment Saturday.

The first round of the election suffered from low turnout, fraud, rampant disorganization, violence and voter intimidation. Nearly 4 percent of polling place tally sheets used to calculate the results were thrown out for alleged fraud at the tabulation center, Ramdin said.

Rioting followed preliminary results that showed carnival singer Michel ``Sweet Micky'' Martelly eliminated in favor of ruling-party candidate Jude Celestin by less than 1 percent. Former first lady Mirlande Manigat was in first place.

Only two are expected to advance. There were 19 candidates on the ballot, all of whom received votes and nearly all of whom called for the election to be thrown out.

Manigat and Martelly initially rejected the offer of a review, which was billed as a recount of the tally sheets, because they said the electoral council had been complicit in fraud to favor Celestin.

Ramdin said that all three of the major candidates have agreed at least to further discussions.