The United States is condemning tactics by Haitian authorities in putting down anti-government protests in the capital, Port-au-Prince, on Wednesday. U.S. officials say some local police collaborated with armed supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in attacks on demonstrators that left two people dead.
In its second expression of concern about Haiti in as many days, the State Department has condemned Haitian government actions in dealing with Wednesday's march by thousands of demonstrators calling for President Aristide's removal.
News reports from Port-au-Prince said marchers were confronted by Aristide supporters who shot at, and threw rocks and bottles at, members of the crowd. Two deaths and several injuries were reported in the second day of such protests in the new year.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said some elements of the Haitian police worked diligently to protect demonstrators. But he said others were collaborating with government-sponsored gangs, who he said rampaged through the streets of the capital, attacking people and vandalizing businesses.
"We're condemning the actions of the Haitian government in response to the political demonstrations that occurred January 7 in Port-au-Prince," he said. "Police officers, at least some police officers at these demonstrations, collaborated with heavily armed hired gangs to attack the demonstrators. We believe these actions contradict the government's own declaration that it seeks compromise. We call on the government to end immediately its efforts to suppress peaceful dissent."
Mr. Boucher said a government that wishes to be considered democratic cannot continue to use street gangs "as an instrument of violence and terror."
He said the Aristide government must punish those who commit violence, and undertake fundamental reforms necessary to restore the rule of law in accordance with Organization of American States Resolution 822.
That September 2002 OAS resolution calls on Haiti to provide the security climate needed to allow formation of a credible and independent Provisional Electoral Council that would help lead the country out of the political stalemate it has been in since disputed parliamentary elections in May of 2000.
At his news conference Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he is "very disturbed" by the situation in Haiti and said the United States is pressing Mr. Aristide to work with the country's Roman Catholic leaders who are trying to mediate the standoff between the government and its opponents.
Mr. Powell said he was sure the Haitian crisis would be discussed by hemispheric leaders at next week's Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, Mexico.