WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States on Friday condemned violence by police in Haiti against demonstrators earlier this week, who were protesting against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and accusing him of clinging to power.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said while some police tried to protect the protesters in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday, “other police officers collaborated with heavily armed hired gangs to attack the demonstrators.”

He said these government-sponsored gangs rampaged through the streets, stealing cars, attacking radio stations, vandalizing businesses and harassing people.

“These actions contradict the government’s own declarations that it seeks to compromise and a peaceful resolution of Haiti’s political crisis,” Boucher said.

He said the United States believes the crisis in Haiti must be resolved peacefully through dialogue.

“The government of Haiti must punish those who commit violence acts of repression and must undertake fundamental reforms necessary to restore the rule of law in Haiti,” Boucher said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Thursday he was “very disturbed” about the situation in Haiti.

Powell said the United States was pressuring Aristide and the opposition to “provide a constitutional way forward so that the people of Haiti can express their will.”

A vast majority of Parliament members’ terms expire on Monday, after which the legislature will no longer be functional and Aristide would have to rule by decree.

The Caribbean country’s Catholic Bishops Conference on Nov. 24 proposed that Parliament be replaced by a nine-member interim governing council made up of representatives from the Supreme Court, political parties and civil society groups.

Aristide last month supported the idea, as did the United States and France. But leaders of opposition parties and civil groups have opposed it.

Tensions have been rising since Aristide’s party won 2000 legislative elections that observers said were flawed. The opposition refuses to participate in new elections unless Aristide steps down, but he says he will serve out his term until 2006.

Since mid-September, at least 44 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded during anti-government protests in Haiti.