Unrest is continuing in Haiti after police failed to retake control of a major northern city after several days of rioting and violence. At least 18 people, including several policemen, have died over the past four days in the worst political violence to strike Haiti in years.
Haiti's national police have reportedly withdrawn from the country's fourth largest city Gonaives, after a failed attempt on Saturday to control anti-government rioters. Disturbances broke out on Thursday when rioters burned down the city's police and fire stations as well as several large businesses. Rioting has now spread to other cities, including St. Marc, about 70 kilometers north of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Unconfirmed reports say Haitian police have withdrawn from several other large towns in the region.
Protesters are calling on Haiti's President Jean Bertrand Aristide to step down immediately. A broad coalition of opposition politicians, business leaders and civil society groups say Mr. Aristide and his supporters are involved in human rights abuses, corruption and government mismanagement. Opposition leaders in Port-au-Prince have denounced the violence in Gonaives.
Mr. Aristide has refuted the charges and says he will fill out the remaining two years of his term.
A spokesman for Haiti's government has called the violence acts of terrorism, but so far the government has not said how it will regain control of Gonaives, St. Marc or other towns where civil authority has disintegrated. Much of the violence in Gonaives is believed to be carried out by armed gangs, who are former supporters of Mr. Aristide but who now oppose his rule.
The roots of Haiti's current political crisis date to flawed legislative elections in 2000. The government and the opposition have been unable to agree on when or how to hold new elections resulting in political paralysis in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.