PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Hundreds of government opponents protested in Haiti’s capital Thursday, calling for the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide because of deepening poverty and insecurity in the Caribbean country.
The crowd of university students and opposition activists marched to the National Palace, where some 50 Aristide supporters confronted them, yelling, “If Aristide isn’t there, who will replace him?”
Police stood between the two groups, ordering them to separate. Some students later threw rocks at government supporters before police broke up the demonstration, firing rifle shots into the air.
It was the latest in a series of demonstrations called to complain about Haiti’s stagnant economy and what protesters say is the government’s failure to ensure safety and stability.
On Wednesday, government opponents set fire to a pro-government radio station, Radio Pyramide, in the west coast town of St. Marc, witnesses said. No one was injured, but the fire gutted the station.
The attack came hours after the state Telecommunications Council closed Radio Tete-a-Tete, a station in the town that had given voice to the opposition. The closure was because the station didn’t have proper legal authorization to broadcast, not for political reasons, government official Daniel Jean-Charles said.
Clashes during anti-government demonstrations in the past two months have killed at least 12 people and wounded scores. Heavily armed police broke up a demonstration Tuesday in the west coast town of Gonaives.
Joseph Maurice, a 26-year-old protester, likened the situation in the Caribbean country to Bolivia, where last month violent protests led President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to step down.
“In Bolivia the people forced the president to resign – why not in Haiti?” Maurice said.
Aristide’s supporters have vowed to thwart opposition protests during upcoming celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of Haiti’s independence.
“We’re behind Aristide all the way for him to finish his five-year term,” in 2006, said Marc-Andre Alexandre, a 21-year-old at Thursday’s pro-government demonstration.
On Tuesday, Haiti is to mark the 200th anniversary of its decisive military defeat of the French outside the northern city of Cap-Haitien. Seeking to keep the celebrations peaceful, the government has banned protests in the city until Wednesday.