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24911: (news) Chamberlain: Haiti-Violence (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN
PORT-AU-PRINCE, April 28 (AP) -- Police opened fire on a crowd of
apparently peaceful protesters demanding the release of detainees loyal to
ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and at least five people were
killed, U.N. officials and witnesses said.
Wednesday's shooting came as the U.S. State Department confirmed it
plans to waive an arms embargo to allow sales of thousands of arms for the
Haitian police, whom critics accuse of brutality, summary executions and
persecution of pro-Aristide loyalists.
U.S. officials and the interim Haitian government they helped install
say the police are outgunned and outnumbered by politically allied
Witnesses said police drove up behind demonstrators Wednesday and shot
into the crowd as it approached the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping
mission in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.
"The police started to fire," said one witness, who spoke on condition
of anonymity for fear of his safety. "People started to run and shout
hostile slogans at the police."
Five people were killed and an unknown number wounded, witnesses said.
The witnesses said the officers arrived in department pickup trucks and
wore police uniforms and masks -- standard uniform for the riot squad.
U.N. mission spokesman Damian Onses-Cardona confirmed that police opened
fire on demonstrators but had no further information.
U.N. civilian police spokesman Dan Moskaluk said peacekeepers called to
the scene after the shooting found five bodies. He called the march an
"unauthorized, illegal demonstration."
An official at Port-au-Prince morgue, who spoke on condition of
anonymity, said the bodies of five young men were brought in from the
Haitian police could not be reached for comment.
After the shooting, witnesses said some protesters fled to the
pro-Aristide slum stronghold of Bel-Air, where at least two cars were set
ablaze and automatic gunfire erupted.
A Brazilian peacekeeper was slightly injured by a bullet to the arm, the
military spokesman said.
Residents hid in doorways as police with high-powered rifles peered
The shootings marked the third time in three months that police have
opened fire on pro-Aristide protesters. Three people were killed in
previous incidents, though police deny responsibility.
Haiti has been mired in outbreaks of violence that has killed at least
400 people since a three-week rebellion ousted Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004.
The interim government has been criticized for the detentions without
trial of hundreds of pro-Aristide officials and supporters.
U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police have struggled to assert control
over sprawling Port-au-Prince slums where pro- and anti-Aristide gangs hold
sway. They have also increasingly clashed with former soldiers who helped
topple Aristide, control some rural towns, and refuse to disarm.
Many fear the violence could thwart efforts to hold general elections in
October and November.
Human rights groups and government opponents have accused the police of
killing hundreds of unarmed civilians in nighttime raids on pro-Aristide
They have objected to U.S. help in arming the police. The United States
admitted last week that it gave 2,600 used firearms last year to help
re-equip and professionalize the force, according to U.S. State Department
and U.N. officials.
They said Washington is moving to approve the sale of thousands more
guns despite a 14-year arms embargo.