Deadly violence, chaos and looting break out in Haiti’s capital
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Feb 27 (AFP) – Deadly violence, looting and chaos broke out Friday in Port-au-Prince amid fears that the rebels who already seized most of the country were set to storm this crisis-wracked Caribbean capital.

Hundreds of people, many armed with knives, pistols or assault rifles, descended on the city’s main port to loot everything from beer to jetskis. Some wore bullet-proof vests and face masks, some fired their weapons into the air.

Fights broke out between the looters and at least one critically wounded man lay on the ground in a pool of blood. The looters broke open containers and storage areas.

Looting was also reported at the airport warehouses and at the Kiskiya university. In the Poupelard neighborhood, two men, shot in the head execution-style, lay on the side of the road. The hands of one of the men were bound in plastic handcuffs and none had belts or shoelaces indicating that they might have been prisoners.

Residents of the neighborhood said they had no idea who the dead were, and that they were killed on Thursday evening. A few miles away another bloodied body lay on the road, and several more such killings were reported elsewhere in the capital. Shots could be heard from time to time.

Gangs of armed supporters of Jean Bertrand Aristide drove through the city waving their guns and chanting “five years” in reference to the embattled president’s term that ends in 2006.

The Aristide backers, popularly known as “chimeres” — mythical fire-breathing monsters — terrorised motorists at burning barricades they erected in the city. In at least one case they hurled rocks at a car, journalists were threatened and other motorists said they were forced to hand over their money or even their cars to the pro-government gangs.

A professor at the Kiskiya university said the “chimeres” also set gas pumps alight. The government supporters are trying to keep cars off the roads, forcing gas stations to close down and blocking major roads.

The militias hope that halting traffic will make it easier to repel any rebel attack on the capital, among the few cities still held by Aristide, who has rejected calls for his resignation. Banks and most other businesses were shuttered and there was virtually no traffic in the city center where the increasingly violent pro-Aristide gangs held sway.

In the middle class suburb of Petionville, only one bank was open and there was a long queue outside. There was virtually no police presence in the capital. Haiti has no military and only about 4,000 policemen, a number of whom have been targeted by anti-Aristide forces.

The surge in violence came as the rebels seized Mirebalais, only 57 kilometres (35 miles) northeast of Port-au-Prince in the early hours, freeing 67 prisoners at the local jail. Many of the rebels are former soldiers in Haiti’s armed forces which Aristide disbanded in 1995. – Article No. 20040227122036