Originally: Haitian police break up opposition rally in northcoast, four wounded

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Police fired tear gas to break up an opposition rally against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Saturday during in a clash that left at least four injured.

Thousands of government opponents and civil society groups had gathered in Haiti’s second largest city of Cap-Haitien when police started firing tear gas at the crowd.

Witnesses said police also fired live rounds. At least one demonstrator was shot in the side, private Radio Maxima reported. Three police officers were injured in the northcoast city.

“The meeting was illegal. Those who attended persisted and resisted the attempt of the police to disperse the assembly,’ said Charles Shely, Cap-Haitien police chief. Organizers of rallies have to inform the police but the police do not authorize the demonstrations.

The rally was organized by an ad hoc committee called the North District Front, which comprises the opposition People’s Struggle Organization Party and Citizen’s Initiative, a civil society association.

Last month, Aristide partisans broke up a peaceful meeting of civil society groups in Cite Soleil, a seaside shantytown bordering the capital. At least 40 people were injured.

“We invited the partisan and non-partisan opposition to try to find unity in the face of Aristide’s dictatorial regime,’ said North District Front coordinator Jean-Robert Lalane, who was slightly injured by a rock.

Citizen’s Initiative leader Frandley Denis Julien said police had notified him they were unable to ensure security of the demonstration.

Haiti has been deadlocked in political stalemate since Aristide’s Lavalas Family party swept May 2000 eections that observers said ere flawed and the opposition said were rigged.

Since then, the Caribbean nation has plunged deeper into poverty and unrest as international lenders suspended more than $500 million in loans and grants, with some needing payments on arrears but others demanding democratic reforms and greater stability.

Plans for new elections have been stalled as the opposition and civil society leaders demand the government reform the police, disarm Aristide partisans, and prosecute perpetrators of political violence.

“If the police cannot ensure the security of opposition partisans, how can it ensure the security of elections,’ asked opposition politician Andre Michel, spokesman for the Convention of Democratic Unity party.