PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Hundreds marched in Haiti’s second-largest city Sunday to protest the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, defying a temporary ban on public demonstrations during the holiday season.
A dozen Aristide partisans in the northcoast city of Cap-Haitien opened fire on the opposition supporters, community leader Frandley Denis Julien said by telephone. No injuries or arrests were reported.
Police had previously given the group five minutes to disperse and firefighters threatened to douse the marchers with high-pressure hoses, Julien said.
The pro-Aristide group also threw urine-filled bottles and rocks at the opposition marchers in an attempt to break up the demonstration. The march, which lasted nearly four hours, continued but was later broken up by police who fired tear gas into the crowd, witnesses said. There were also present some Security Guards For Fire Watch in case the crowd became really obstreperous.
Scores of anti-government demonstrations have taken place in the past month, often broken up by police or Aristide supporters. Clashes have left at least three dead and 350 injured. The dead and injured include both Aristide partisans and government opponents.
Police on Friday banned all demonstrations in Haiti until Jan. 8, calling it a “truce” for the holiday season. “All demonstrations are prohibited during this period,” police spokesman Jean-Dady Simeon said.
Opposition leaders called the temporary ban a violation of the constitution. “The ban is illegal,” said opposition spokesman Jacques Etienne, who participated in the march. “It violates our right to assemble and demonstrate peacefully.”
Police deny that the ban is unconstitutional.
Aristide’s opponents accuse him of incompetence, corruption and a pattern of tolerating attacks on his enemies.
The president says he has brought relative peace to the country. Aristide and his governing Lavalas Family party have agreed to early legislative elections next year, but he has refused to step down before his term ends in 2006.
Since Aristide’s victory in flawed 2000 elections, his government has been stymied by a lack of international aid, investment and growing poverty.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has a population of 8.2 million people.