GONAIVES, Haiti — Hundreds of people looted a smoldering police station Friday, a day after an armed opposition group took control of Haiti’s fourth-largest city in the biggest uprising yet aimed at the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
“The revolution has begun!” declared Dormessan Philippe, a 27-year-old in the crowd milling outside the police station.
At least seven people were killed in Thursday’s attack – four civilians and three police officers – and 20 were wounded, according to the Haitian Red Cross. The four were anti-government militants killed in gunbattles with police, Gonaives Resistance Front leader Wynter Etienne told Radio Vision 2000.
Etienne’s group set ablaze a police station, the home of pro-Aristide Mayor Stephan Moise and a building housing a gas station and other businesses belonging to Moise.
Soldiers were deployed at main intersections in Gonaives, a city of about 200,000 people, but nobody stopped looters carrying away guns and helmets from the police station.
In the seaside shantytown of Raboteau, the armed group’s stronghold, hundreds of demonstrators shouted: “Aristide must go! Too much blood has flowed!” Some of them wore looted police uniforms and brandished stolen weapons.
At the downtown jail, where the attackers freed more than 100 prisoners, the sound of hammering rang out as looters dislodged metal gates and bars.
Stores and schools remained shut and severed telephone lines were strewn in rubble-covered streets.
The government has vowed to restore order, while the armed group says it aims to seize other towns.
Government spokesman Mario Dupuy said Thursday the group does not have the support of most people in the city 70 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince, the capital.
The attacks “are terrorist acts undertaken by the armed wing of the opposition,” Dupuy said. “The police will have to take measures to re-establish order.” But there were no police in sight Friday.
Members of the armed group in Gonaives were once allied with Aristide but turned on him last year after their leader, Amiot Metayer, was found murdered Sept. 22. Metayer had long supported Aristide, but many of his followers now accuse the government of involvement in the killing.
Metayer’s brother, Buteur, said Friday they would continue to fight.
“We’re going to defend our victory. We’re going to put up checkpoints at the town’s exit and entry points to prevent a police attack,” he told The Associated Press.
The neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti, has ordered its military to tighten security along the border. The Dominican Republic has about 8 million people and Haiti about 8.5 million.
At least 58 people have been killed in Haiti since mid-September in clashes between police and Aristide opponents and Aristide supporters and opponents. Discontent has grown since Aristide’s party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000 and international donors have frozen millions of dollars in aid until new elections are held.
Haiti won its independence from France in a black slave revolt 200 years ago but has experienced little freedom since, suffering through a string of dictators interspersed with more than 30 military coups.
After 29 years of the Duvalier family dictatorship, Aristide, then a slum priest, won presidential elections by a landslide in 1990. He was overthrown the next year, then restored in 1994 by a U.S. invasion.
He was re-elected in 2000, but has been plagued by political troubles. Opposition leaders have demanded Aristide’s resignation, accusing his government of incompetence and corruption.
Aristide has refused to step down before his term ends in 2006 and has defended his government, saying it has made progress despite many obstacles.
In the capital of Port-au-Prince, hundreds allied in support of Aristide outside the National Palace Thursday, chanting: “Aristide five years! If they don’t like it, 10 years!”