PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (TNS) — Haitian elections officials Friday afternoon abruptly canceled Sunday’s planned elections amid escalating protests around the country.

Hours early, the officials had halted the distribution of voting materials and began recovery of those that had already gone out.

Elections officials said at a news conference that safety could not be guaranteed for voters or poll workers.

The cancellation is “a victory for all of the democratic sector,” said Jude Celestin, the main opposition candidate in Sunday’s election.

The electoral commission’s about-face came after the international community said it is leaving the door open for Haitians to find a political consensus that could lead to the postponement of Sunday’s partial legislative and presidential runoff.

Six foreign ambassadors along with the representative of the Organization of American States and the head of the U.N. peacekeeping stabilization mission said Friday that while they still want to see the conclusion of the electoral process, they support efforts “aimed at finding a way forward that ensures the democratic renewal of state institutions.”

The statement makes no mention of a Jan. 24 presidential runoff or a Feb. 7 constitutional end of President Michel Martelly’s term, two dates that the international community had been insistent on Haiti maintaining. But they softened their stance Thursday as Celestin continued to boycott the runoff and tires and cars burned in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. Also, reports trickled in that schools doubling as voting bureaus were being burned.

For days, members of the private sector and Roman Catholic Cardinal Chibly Langlois have been trying to find a solution to the country’s electoral crisis, which was triggered by allegations of fraud in the Oct. 25 presidential runoff and Celestin declaring his nonparticipation. The negotiations had stalled but as of Thursday, they were back on track as both the executive and the opposition worked on their own separate proposals.

Sources familiar with the talks, say the sticking point remains Feb. 7, and who would govern Haiti afterward. Martelly supporters say he should be allowed to remain in power until a new president is elected. The opposition, including a majority of senators, wants him gone.

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