Originally: Government Supporters Clash with Marchers in Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 10 ? About a dozen people were injured, some seriously, when supporters of Haiti’s President Jean-Bertrand Aristide clashed with opponents trying to march on the National Palace on Friday, witnesses said.
A journalist, Rosny Mathieu, an employee of private station Magik Stereo FM, was among those hurt. A rock gashed his head as Aristide’s supporters threw rocks and bottles at a crowd of hundreds of marchers, witnesses said.
The anti-government marchers, incensed by rising fuel costs and what critics charge is Aristide’s increasingly corrupt and repressive rule, were attacked as they approached the center of Port-au-Prince in an attempt to march on the National Palace in the latest in a series of protests to hit the impoverished Caribbean nation in recent months.
Pro-government demonstrators said they were also attacked by police, whom they said beat them with whips and wooden clubs grabbed from the pro-government protesters’ hands. ”They attacked us, they injured many, the police. The government bears responsibility for this,” leading Aristide supporter and march organizer Rene Civil told Radio Galaxie.
Police fired into the air and used tear gas to try to disperse the crowds. Helicopters carrying heavily armed riot police swooped low over the capital as frightened residents alternately huddled on corners and fled through the narrow streets. Sporadic automatic weapons fire was heard.
Bleeding protesters and counter-protesters staggered into the capital’s General Hospital in search of aid.
”We are here to show all citizens that they have the right to protest against Aristide, that they don’t have to be afraid,” said Himmler Rebu, a former colonel in the Haitian army that was disbanded by Aristide in 1994 and a leading Aristide critic.
Government and police officials were not immediately available for comment on the disturbances, and there were no official figures for the number of injured.
The march had been scheduled to include members of 11 of Haiti’s largest trade unions, but they did not show up after their meeting place, one of the city’s main bus depots, was deluged with chanting Aristide supporters.
Instead, members of Haiti’s Democratic Convergence opposition coalition spearheaded the protest.
Haiti has seen a wave of anti-government protests in recent months as students, trade unions and opposition politicians have taken to the streets calling for Aristide’s resignation.
Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, was first elected in 1990 but ousted in a coup months later. U.S. troops helped restore him to power in 1994.
Since his re-election in November 2000, he has been locked in a bitter dispute with the Convergence over May 2000 parliamentary elections that observers said were rigged to favor Aristide’s Lavalas Family party.