Originally: Aristide partisans protest conference

PORT-AU-PRINCE — (AP) — More than 1,000 supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide threw rocks Saturday, disrupting a meeting of 184 civil society groups that were gathered to discuss social problems in Haiti.

Hundreds of the groups’ members, including business, human-rights, peasant, labor and student associations, started a motorcade from the airport near the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.

The motorcade drove to the Aristide stronghold of Cite Soleil, where the groups planned to call for the government to disarm criminal gangs, arrest perpetrators of political violence and take more steps to guarantee security and press freedom.

Aristide supporters threw rocks at the passing vehicles, then stoned a Roman Catholic meeting center where the groups had been scheduled to congregate.

Four Haitian journalists were injured when Aristide supporters attacked their vehicles. One of the journalists was hospitalized with head injuries, and another had two broken ribs.

Several other people reported being slightly injured, including businessman Andy Apaid Jr., chief spokesman for the groups.

”What happened today is a catastrophe,” Apaid said from his car after being struck in the chest with a large rock and losing his breath for several minutes. “The blame is squarely on the shoulders of Aristide.”

Aristide supporters waved photographs of their leader, chanting “Long live Aristide!”

After about two hours, 100 people held an informal meeting in the Catholic center’s auditorium. Meanwhile, the government issued a statement defending the civil groups’ right to free speech and assembly.