By MICHAEL NORTON, Associated Press Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Firing warning shots and tear gas, police stopped mourners on Friday from approaching the presidential palace with the coffin of a protester killed during a demonstration against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Two people were slightly wounded by fire from Aristide supporters, witnesses said.
The clashes occurred during the funeral of Maxime Deselmour, 33, shot during a Jan. 7 protest. As the funeral procession marched toward the National Palace, with mourners shouting “Down with Aristide!” police fired into the air and Aristide supporters hurled rocks.
Witnesses said Aristide supporters also fired shots as mourners fled past a government office, hitting one person in the arm and grazing another’s head. Three were struck by stones.
Pressure has been building on Aristide’s administration since his party swept 2000 legislative elections that observers said were flawed. Poverty has deepened and unrest has risen. In the past four months, at least 46 people have been killed in demonstrations.
Witnesses say Deselmour was killed when police and Aristide partisans were firing shots to intimidate protesters. The shooting was under investigation.
“Maxime was committed to change, and he died fighting for it,” said Bernard Leveque, 29, a student and close friend of Deselmour.
Opposition is mounting against Aristide’s embattled administration. A movement made up of political parties, clergy, students and business leaders, refuses to participate in new elections unless Aristide resigns.
But it remains unclear whether any of the movement’s leaders has the international backing and popular support to lead the country out of its deepening morass.
This week at a special Summit of the Americas in Mexico, Aristide said government representatives would meet in the Bahamas next week with the opposition and members of the 15-member Caribbean Community. He said international observers, including Canada, would monitor talks over setting up a nine-member electoral council to set a date for new elections.
So far, the opposition was refusing to talk to Aristide.
“The opposition will not negotiate with Aristide but is ready to discuss with Caribbean Community leaders,” said Serge Giles, an opposition leader.
Aristide is Haiti‘s first freely elected leader. He says he plans to serve out his term until 2006.