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Violent Protests Continue as Interim Haiti Government Moves Forward - 2004-03-11


Police in Haiti broke up a violent demonstration of supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide Thursday in Port-au-Prince. Several people were admitted to local hospitals with gunshots wounds but there have been no reports of fatalities. Multi-national troops and Haitian police have started disarmament operations in an effort to try to control violence in Haiti.

A crowd of supporters of Jean Bertrand Aristide marched out of the Bel Aire slum in downtown Port-au-Prince and headed for the national palace early Thursday afternoon where they had planned to hold a demonstration. Shortly afterwards shots rang out and police lobbed tear gas canisters into the crowd. The crowd dispersed back into the Bel Aire neighborhood, but not before smashing car windows and burning tires in the heart of the city.

Nearly two weeks after President Aristide fled Haiti many of his supporters remain furious. Like Guillome Max Henry, an unemployed resident of Bel Aire, they say they will continue demonstrating until Mr. Aristide is returned to the National Palace.

"Since Aristide was elected, he has two more years in office," he said. "And until Aristide is put back into power we will protest every day."

Political life in Haiti is moving on. Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue held talks Thursday with interim President Boniface Alexandre. The two men have the task of leading Haiti to new elections at some point in the future. Mr. Latortue says his main tasks are reconciliation, security and disarmament.

He is expected to announce a cabinet within days giving prominent roles to former Army Chief of Staff Herard Abraham and former Aristide Prime Minister Smark Michel.

Mr. Latortue says he wants multi-national troops in Haiti to take the initiative when it comes to disarmament. U.S. Marines, French troops and Haitian police have begun raids in Port-au-Prince seeking weapons hidden in private homes. U.S. Marine Colonel Mark Garganus who commands U.S. troops in Haiti says good intelligence is the key to finding guns.

"We work off of information that we are provided from numerous sources," he said. "Rarely will we work off of single source information."

Colonel Garganus says Haiti's main port in the capital is now secure enough so that multi-national troops have begun to receive supplies by sea. The troops have stepped up their patrols in recent days in areas near the port and airport which have been hard hit by looting.

Meanwhile Jamaican authorities have confirmed that former President Jean Bertrand Aristide will arrive in Jamaica next week, on a personal visit, to see his children. They have been living in the United States with relatives since shortly before he fled Haiti.

Jamaican officials say Mr. Aristide has not asked for asylum in Jamaica and his visit will last between six and eight weeks.