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Several People Wounded in Violence During Anti-Aristide Protests - 2004-02-21

At least 12 people have been wounded in Haiti, Friday, where a demonstration against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide ended in violence.

A throng of student-led protesters shouting Aristide must go snaked through the streets of downtown Port-Au-Prince Friday. As they got to within a kilometer of the national palace, they were met by machete and gun-wielding backers of the embattled leader.

In the ensuing melee, a student and a Haitian radio reporter were shot and evacuated to a hospital. At least ten others received lesser wounds, including one student who pressed his hand over a bleeding gash on the side of his head. The student, who declined to identify himself, said he had been hurt while trying to help a Spanish reporter who was being attacked with a machete.

The student said, he and other students threw stones to drive away the attacker. He says he was struck by a rock as he neared the reporter, who was subsequently evacuated.

In the hours afterwards, barricades made of burning tires blocked several main roads in and around the capital. Mr. Aristide's communications minister, Mario Dupuy, condemned the bloodshed, but said that the demonstration had been illegal.

The violence came as the United States, Canada and France, along with the Organization of American States, called on President Aristide and the country's opposition to establish a broad-based government that would serve through the remainder of Mr. Aristide's term in office, which ends in 2006. Foreign diplomats have expressed concern that strife in Haiti, which has already claimed more than 50 lives this month, could escalate to a bloodbath.

Meanwhile, the stream of foreigners leaving Haiti has accelerated. Flights out of the country are booked, and some are even resorting to the land route to the neighboring Dominican Republic.

Thursday, the United States urged American citizens, some 20,000 in all, to leave Haiti.