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Thousands Demonstrate in Haiti on Country's Bicentennial - 2004-01-01

Police and protesters clashed Thursday in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, and in the port city of Gonaives as Haitians observed the Bicentennial of their independence from France. Several people were injured in the largest anti-government demonstration to take place in Port-au-Prince in years.

Conch shells, symbolizing Haiti's revolt from France rang out across the lawns of Haiti's Presidential Palace. Thousands of Haiti's poor broke through iron gates to hear President Jean-Bertrand Aristide promise his supporters to dramatically improve living conditions in the western hemisphere's poorest nation over the next decade.

Elsewhere in the capital thousands of anti-Aristide protesters clashed with police and with Aristide supporters in several large demonstrations, calling on Mr. Aristide to resign.

The protesters say Mr. Aristide has done little or nothing to alleviate Haiti's extreme poverty. They also say he is trampling on civil and human rights, a charge he denies.

As man who asked not be identified says he believes Mr. Aristide has not fulfilled promises he made to the Haitian people. "We are angry because we do not have jobs," he said. "We put him in power, for a better life, but since he came back things have been going worse. We do not want him anymore."

Mr. Aristide was joined at Haiti's Bicentennial observances by South African President Thabo Mbeki, and Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie who both called on Haitians to join together to solve their problems.

In his address, Mr. Aristide repeated his demand for France to pay Haiti reparations, but he made no mention of the protesters, or of Haiti's mounting political crisis.