Originally: Police Halt Student-led Protest in Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti: Police fired warning shots to break up a protest Saturday led for a fourth day by university students demanding the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
As Haiti becomes more volatile, about 200 students drew hundreds more demonstrators as they marched from the state university to midtown Port-au-Prince, where they confronted police.
Peaceful protesters and witnesses said police fired warning above their heads and a group of Aristide militants shot directly at them. They said they found safety by jumping behind a wall.
Under attack by police and Aristide partisants, some protesters Saturday said they hid in the yard of carpenter Bazelais Derival, who said he was a roommate of Aristide years ago at a Roman Catholic vocational shool.
While Aristide remains the popular choice for a leader – perhaps because of a lack of choice – Derival made comments reflecting a not unpopular sentiment.
“Aristide has got to go,” he said. “He betrayed his people.”
On Friday, thousands of people took to the streets in response to a call from opposition parties and civil groups for Haitians to demonstrate “until the country is liberated.” They called Aristide and other top officials “outlaws.”
A police force accused of being partisan blocked roads and used tear gas to keep thousands of marchers from central Port-au-Prince Friday, and Aristide militants lobbed rocks and reportedly fired gunshots that wounded three people.
Union leader Montes Joseph said Saturday’s protest was a “warmup” for a bigger march Monday.
“We have the right to demonstrate but this dictatorial government won’t let the people express themselves,” he said.
At least 21 people have been killed in increasingly violent demonstrations since mid-September.
The latest, and biggest, were led by university students whom Aristide called “false students” who have infiltrated the demonstrations.
Student have led protests in Haiti that played a mayor role in the fall of President Elie Lescot in 1946 and the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986. Haiti’s situation has deteriorated as a long-suffering population of 8 million confronts deepening poverty and employment with 75 percent of the work force struggles with no jobs or part-time work.
Aristide’s government says the protests aim to spoil state-sponsored celebrations Jan. 1 of the celebration of the world’s first black republic.
Critics say impoverished Haitians are becoming poorer while some officials enrich themselves off favors and the drug trade.
“All of this mayhem, I can’t sell anything,” said Immacula Pierre, 44, a stree vendor selling fried dishes along the protest route.
Aristide, Haiti’s first freely elected leader, was deposed in a 1991 military coup and restored in a 1994 U.S. invasion. He stepped down in 1996 due to a term limit and was re-elected by a landslide in 2000.