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US diplomats question Haiti's lawmaker elections

The legitimacy of Haiti's election could be in question after officials released results showing 18 legislative candidates suddenly received thousands of votes and were named winners, U.S. diplomats said Friday.

The U.S. Embassy said it was troubled by final election results released late Wednesday that gave victories to 17 Chamber of Deputies candidates and one Senate candidate who ended up with far more votes than they had when preliminary returns were announced April 4.

"We have found no explanation for the reversals of 18 legislative races in the final results, which in all except two cases benefited the incumbent party" of outgoing President Rene Preval, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement. "Without a public explanation and review ... the legitimacy of seating these candidates is in question."

The final numbers from the March 20 runoff elections also confirmed preliminary results that showed pop singer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly won the presidential contest in a landslide over a former first lady.

Election commission spokesman Pierre Thibault could not be reached for comment Friday, a national holiday in which thousands of Roman Catholics walked in Good Friday processions.

The embassy statement noted, for example, how a candidate from Preval's Unity party was third in the preliminary results but finished first in the final results after collecting 55,000 votes.

The United Nations, which has a peacekeeping force in Haiti, also expressed concerns over the election results, which gave Unity 46 of the 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and an absolute majority in the Senate with 17 of 30 seats.

Unity's position will give the party greater control over key government decisions, including who is approved as Haiti's next prime minister after Martelly is inaugurated as president May 14.

Martelly called for an investigation of the vote returns Thursday night via a video posted on his Facebook page.

Earlier Thursday, Martelly had wrapped up a three-day visit to Washington, where he met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the heads of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Clinton enthusiastically said she supported Martelly, who was a popular musician before he became a surprise candidate in the Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections financed by the United States and other members of the international community.

Shortly after Haitian officials released the final results late Wednesday, demonstrations popped up in the countryside. Some turned violent.

A staff member for the Boston-based Partners in Health was killed after protesters set fire to a house in the border town of Belladere, officials said Friday.

"It's certainly related to the political situation, the election results," said Louise Ivers, senior health and policy adviser for Partners in Health, a charity founded by a public health doctor, Paul Farmer, in Haiti's Central Plateau.

Ivers said protesters began to set fire to cars and buildings, including a Partners in Health staff house, around midnight Wednesday. Phyzeme Isly, a 44-year-old lab technician who had worked for the charity for nine years, died.

A nurse and her two children were burned in the attack, and evacuated to the neighboring Dominican Republic for treatment. The violence prompted more than two dozen Partners in Health employees to evacuate, interrupting medical services at the only hospital in Belladere.

Haitian national police spokesman Frantz Lerebours said he had no knowledge about the attack.