The move is the first step in investigating possible fraud in the elections and came hours after leading candidate Rene Preval said the 7 February vote was marred by massive fraud and gross errors.

He said he would contest the results if he is denied a first-round victory.

Paul Magloire, the interim Interior Minister, said: "The government wants to make sure that everything with the process is correct.

"We're going to review the results because we want to make sure what we have is right."

The review will be conducted by a commission comprised of the president's office, the electoral council and Preval's party, said Michel Brunache, chief of staff of interim President Boniface Alexandre.

Magloire said the commission will be formed in the coming days and that the review of the voter tally sheets "will be very fast".

No further results will be released pending the outcome of the review.

Preval's supporters are mainly
from Haiti's slum areas

The most recent results released mid-day on Monday show Preval - a former president and agronomist - with 48.76% of the vote with 90% of ballots counted. He would need 50% plus one vote to win outright and avoid a March runoff.

The elections were Haiti's first since Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted from the presidency in a bloody rebellion two years ago. They are seen as key for avoiding a political and economic meltdown in the Western hemisphere's poorest nation.

Protests 

Earlier on Tuesday, Preval urged his mainly poor supporters to continue protesting peacefully.

Tens of thousands of his backers have flooded the streets of the capital since Sunday to protest against what they called a rigged election.

Local Telemax TV news on Tuesday night showed smashed white ballot boxes in a rubbish dump, with large wads of ballots strewn about. Ballot after ballot was marked for Preval.

David Wimhurst, a UN spokesman, said the ballots could have come from any of nine polling stations, where a total of 35,000 votes could have been cast, that were trashed in several parts of the country on election day.  

"I ask the Haitian people ... to be mature, to be responsible, to be non-violent"

Rene Preval,
Presidential candidate

Wimhurst said in a telephone interview that someone could have dumped the ballots there to create an appearance fraud had been committed.

White UN armoured vehicles on Tuesday shoved aside roadblocks of cars, old refrigerators and other debris that were laid across the streets of the capital a day earlier. Businesses were shuttered, although street markets bustled with shoppers.

Preval urged supporters to remove the roadblocks so people could get to work.

"I ask the Haitian people ... to be mature, to be responsible, to be non-violent," Preval said.

"If they publish the results as they are now, we will oppose them, the Haitian people will also oppose them, and there will be protests."

Observers

An official with the European Union, which has election observers in Haiti, said the mission has refrained from commenting.

A spokesperson said: "The situation is volatile and difficult, and we do not want to make any declaration."

The Canadian observer group also refused to comment.

EU observers refused to
comment on the elections

The constitution indicates that a challenge would go to the Supreme Court, but the interim government recently decreed that any complaints should go to the electoral commission - the same body that is releasing the results.

The UN provided security for the vote and helped ship election returns to the capital, but is not directly involved in counting ballots.

In New York, the UN Security Council urged Haitians to respect election results and refrain from violence, and it extended the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti for six
months, until 15 August.

A runoff election would pit Preval against second-place finisher Leslie Manigat, also a former president, who received 11.8% of the vote. Manigat's wife, Myrlande Manigat, declined to say whether anyone had approached him about withdrawing.

Of the 2.2 million ballots cast, about 125,000 ballots have been declared invalid because of irregularities, raising suspicion among Preval supporters that polling officials were rigging the election.

Another 4% were blank but were still added into the total, making it harder for Preval to obtain the 50% plus one vote needed.