The New York Times
October 3, 2004

Aristide Backers Riot for 3rd Day in Haiti; Death Toll Rises to 7

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Oct. 2 (AP) - Supporters of Haiti's ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, threw stones and fired guns on streets littered with debris and overturned cars on Saturday in a third day of violent protests demanding Mr. Aristide's return.

At least seven people have been killed in the violence so far, including three police officers whose headless bodies were found Friday. A fourth police officer was also shot and killed on the first day of fighting.

"Aristide's partisans have begun an urban guerrilla operation that they call Operation Baghdad," Jean-Claude Bajeux, a rights activist, said Saturday. "The decapitations are imitative of those in Iraq, and they are meant to show the failure of U.S. policy in Haiti."

Tensions have exploded in Haiti as the country struggles to recover from catastrophic floods caused by Tropical Storm Jeanne two weeks ago. The storm killed more than 1,550 people and left some 900 missing, most presumed dead. It also left an estimated 300,000 homeless, some 200,000 of them in the northwestern city of Gonaïves. The storm's aftermath has tied up about 750 of the 3,000 United Nations peacekeeping troops in Haiti.

Against that backdrop, Mr. Aristide's Lavalas Family party on Thursday began three days of commemoration of the 1991 coup that toppled Mr. Aristide's first government. They also demanded an end to "the occupation" and "the invasion" by foreign troops - referring to the American-led force that came in after Mr. Aristide's ouster by a rebellion in February and the United Nations peacekeepers who have taken over since June.

Most vendors stayed home on Saturday morning as supporters of Mr. Aristide, now in exile in South Africa, took to the streets. Masked gunmen were shooting into the air early on Saturday morning in the traditionally pro-Aristide neighborhood of Bel Air, the private radio station Signal FM reported. "There is shooting. They are throwing rocks. People can't walk on the street," said Bonhonne Esperance, 42, an unemployed security guard in the area.

Gunfire also erupted early on Saturday in the slum of La Saline, and some people threw rocks at cars, residents said. At daybreak a team of Haitian police officers patrolled downtown Port-au-Prince by car.

Brazilian troops came under fire while on patrol on Thursday in the traditionally pro-Aristide neighborhood of Cité Soleil, a seaside slum teeming with gangsters loyal to Mr. Aristide. A United Nations spokesman, Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, said the Brazilians returned fire. No injuries were reported.

The Haitian station Radio Metropole reported that at least one civilian had been shot and killed at a pro-Aristide demonstration on Friday. Justice Minister Bernard Gousse said the police also killed two gang leaders and wounded a third on Thursday in Cité Soleil. On Friday in Port-au-Prince's western suburb of Martissant, protesters fired shots in the air, blocked a highway with burning tires and smashed car windows, witnesses said. Radio Metropole said at least one person was killed there and two were injured.

Haiti's interim prime minister, Gérard Latortue, reiterated a pledge for new elections in 2005. "We will not use violence and all of our problems must be solved through elections, which will take place next year," Mr. Latortue said during a visit on Friday in Coral Gables, Fla.

The American-backed interim government that replaced Mr. Aristide's has proven ineffectual in responding to the needs in Gonaïves, the center of the rebellion against Mr. Aristide. After the recent flooding in the city, hungry residents have repeatedly mobbed relief trucks and gangsters have stolen relief supplies.