The Washington Post
Monday, March 8, 2004; Page A12

4 Protesters, 1 Journalist Killed During Rally in Haiti

By Ian James and Paisley Dodds
Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, March 7 -- At least four demonstrators and a foreign journalist were killed by gunfire Sunday at a protest to demand that ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide be tried for corruption and fomenting violence.

Witnesses said Aristide supporters had caused the violence, but that could not be confirmed. The shooting occurred as crowds gathered in front of the presidential National Palace. Ricardo Ortega, a cameraman for Spain's Antena 3 television network, was shot in the stomach and died at Port-au-Prince's Canape Vert Hospital. A photographer for the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Michael Laughlin, 37, who was shot in the shoulder and face, was in stable condition.

Witnesses said Aristide supporters fired at the crowd in front of the National Palace, and they complained that U.S. and French peacekeepers standing guard at the protest had not acted to prevent the violence. "The peacekeepers were nowhere near where the shooting was," said Almil Costel, 31, who was shot twice in the left shoulder.

But a U.S. Marine commander said three of his troops returned fire during the attack. "Three Marines fired from the palace in the direction from which the shots were being fired," Maj. Richard Crusan said.

Aristide supporters had also planned a demonstration Sunday but said they were not offered protection by the peacekeepers and were afraid of attacks by foes of the ousted president.

Aristide, who resigned and went into exile last week, released a statement Sunday through government officials in the Central African Republic, where he has taken refuge. He said he was "well-looked-after" by his hosts and would address reporters at an unspecified time. Aristide has said the United States forced him from power, which U.S. officials have denied.

Earlier during Sunday's march in Port-au-Prince, demonstrators tore down a billboard featuring Aristide's face, then carried it to the palace and set it on fire.

Guy Philippe, one of the leaders of the insurrection that forced Aristide's resignation, reiterated Sunday that he had no political aspirations. On Wednesday, he said his fighters would lay down their arms.

© 2004