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Haiti earthquake anniversary: power struggle destroying recovery efforts

Haiti marks the first anniversary of its disastrous earthquake on Wednesday with voodoo ceremonies and open air masses amid a barrage of warnings that its corrupt political power struggle was destroying recovery efforts.

Rene Preval, the outgoing president, was last night under mounting pressure to reverse an apparent attempt to rig the election of his successor.

The Organisation of American States (OAS), the regional grouping, demanded that Jude Celestin, the ruling party candidate, be removed from a run-off for the post.

Widespread bribery, intimidation and ballot fraud in the first round of the election produced a discredited result that has pitched the island into dangerous political uncertainty.

Mr Celestin emerged as runner-up in the November vote to Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady, ahead of the popular cult singer, Michel Martelly.

Diplomats said Mr Preval would not withstand pressure to postpone the poll – already delayed from January 16 – after the OAS declaration.

But the prospect of a power struggle amid the ruins of Haiti's devastated capital Port au Prince dismayed international donors already disillusioned by the failure to rebuild the Western hemisphere's poorest state.

Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy representative, warned that instability in the political elite was preventing aid from reaching people who needed it.

"We are extremely concerned by the political situation," she said. "Current instability prevents EU humanitarian aid reaching the people in need and makes the reconstruction process slower and more complex."

A 7.0 earthquake on the Richter scale left 227,750 people dead and 2.3 million without homes on January 12 last year. Twelve months on, more than one million are still homeless and up to 8,000 a month are seeking life-saving treatment for cholera.

Temporary camps built on golf courses, shopping centres and unstable hillsides, are plagued with crime – hundreds of women have suffered rape – disease and a shortage of amenities.

Mr Preval's government all but collapsed after the disaster, which destroyed the presidential palace and killed one third of government employees.

Only a US-military led intervention halted a death spiral, reopening the airport and distributing food and supplies to cut-off areas.

Myriad government failures harmed rebuilding efforts. Cafod, the Catholic aid agency, warning millions could not be rehoused until a new property code was adopted.

Ordinary Haitians could only express despair. "We have been abandoned to our fate," said one resident of Port-au-Prince's Corail Camp. "The government has forgotten us."

Bill Clinton, the former US president and special envoy for Haitian reconstruction, who will spearhead the two-day commemorations, arrived in Port-au-Prince last night. Events will be capped by an open air Roman Catholic mass for the victims in the ruins of the city's cathedral, which was destroyed in the quake.

The official schedule includes the symbolic laying of the first stone for a housing project in the centre of Port-au-Prince.