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Uprising in Haiti Spreads - 2004-02-09

Violent disturbances spread to more towns in northwest Haiti on Monday. At least 40 people have died since last Thursday, when the rioting broke out against the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Haiti's government claimed some success late Monday when it reported recapturing a large town on a major north-south highway.

Police are struggling to regain control of towns along a key north-south highway in the western part of the country. Large scale disturbances, which broke out in Haiti's fourth largest city Gonaives on Thursday, have now spread to other cities and towns in the region. Police reported progress Monday saying they had regained control of St. Marc, 70 kilometers north of Port-au-Prince, which sits on the main road linking Gonaives with the capital.

The disturbances, which are being led by former gang leaders based in Gonaives, who are former allies of President Aristide's government, say they want Mr. Aristide to leave office. They accuse the government of human rights violations and mismanagement.

A broad coalition of opposition politicians and business leaders based in the capital, who also say they want Mr. Aristide to leave office, have condemned the violence calling it destabilizing.

Haiti's prime minister has denounced the rioters, saying they are terrorists. He has called on opposition leaders to help prevent what he describes as a coup d'etat. For his part, Mr. Aristide said recently he has no plans to leave office before his term officially expires in two years.

The roots of Haiti's crisis date to legislative elections in 2000 that international observers called deeply flawed. Since then Haiti's government and opposition have been unable to agree on when or how to hold new elections, leading to government paralysis. President Aristide was first elected in 1990 and then ousted months later by Haiti's now-disbanded army. He was restored to power in a U.S.-led military intervention in 1994.