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Looting, Shooting Continue in Haiti as Aristide Flees - 2004-02-29

In Haiti's capital, the departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been met with shooting, looting, and many expressions of relief.

In the neighborhood surrounding Haiti's national palace, enraged gangs still loyal to the president patrolled the streets in unmarked cars and shot randomly at local residents.

Once the gangs drove off, curious people ventured out of their homes.

Some chose to make fun of their departed leader. One man shouted that Mr. Aristide was ugly and had a big nose - words no one would have dared utter in public within earshot of the national palace just a few hours earlier.

One resident who simply identified himself as a local businessman bore a wide smile.

"I am more than happy," he said. "Why? Because the devil has left the country, OK?"

One elderly woman standing on her front porch did not want to be recorded, but said she was relieved the president had left Haiti. She said she did not feel safe leaving her house in recent days, and now she can finally go to the drugstore to get medication she needs for diabetes.

Those still loyal to Mr. Aristide were in more of a shooting mood than a talking mood.

Elsewhere, thick black smoke rose from several streets near the palace, as rioters smashed their way into shops and businesses, torching many of them once they made off with everything of value inside.

At a ransacked fire station, one man found the keys to an enormous fire truck, and attempted to make off with it.

Many residents' initial reaction to the news was one of caution. One man said he expected residents to throw a huge street party later in the day. He said, the people are not convinced yet that Aristide has truly left for good. That is why there are no celebrations on the street. When the people know for sure, they will joyfully take to the streets en masse - at least once the shooting stop.