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Last Updated: Friday, 12 December, 2003, 14:33 GMT
Haiti protests marred by violence
Protesters in Port-au-Prince on Thursday
Protesters were pelted by supporters of the government
Thousands of people protested in Haiti on Thursday in one of the largest anti-government demonstrations in years.

At least eight were injured when police used tear gas and government supporters threw stones to disperse demonstrators in the capital Port-au-Prince.

One person was reportedly shot dead at a protest in the town of Gonaives.

The demonstrators - mostly students - say President Jean-Bertrand Aristide represses dissent and has mismanaged the economy.

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Most of its 8 million residents are unemployed.

Death threats

Crowds tried to march onto the National Palace, where a few dozen Aristide supporters and riot police awaited them.

The protesters were pelted with missiles including rocks, cans, bricks and bottles which they occasionally returned.

Police lobbed tear gas grenades into the crowd and fired warning shots.

Hospital sources said those injured included two people with bullet wounds and three hit by a speeding police car, according to AFP news agency.

Four private radio stations suspended broadcasts after government supporters phoned in with death threats toward protesters, the Associated Press reported.

The protesters say the government uses violence to silence the media.

Haiti's best-known journalist, Jean Dominique, was shot dead in April 2000 outside his radio station. Since then at least one other journalist has been killed and several have left the country.

"The government wants to put an end to freedom of press in Haiti," said Lylianne Pierre-Paul, co-owner of Radio Kiskeya, according to AP.

"They blame the media for reporting what is happening."

Stalemate

Other protesters complained about the deteriorating state of Haiti's economy.

"Aristide has mismanaged the country," said Pierre Joseph, a 22-year-old student from the University of Haiti.

Protesters and a policeman in Port-au-Prince on Thursday
There have been many complaints of police brutality
"Every sector of the country is suffering and saying we've had enough!"

The government says the protests are aimed at spoiling celebrations of two centuries of Haitian independence on 1 January.

Mr Aristide has been locked in stalemate with the opposition since 2000, when he returned to power in a landslide elections which his opponents say were rigged.

The opposition is demanding that Mr Aristide step down, but he has vowed to serve out his term, which ends in 2006.

Violence condemned

Since mid-September, violence at anti-government protests has killed at least 17 people.

Dozens of students were injured in protests last week, when Aristide supporters attacked about 100 students. A university rector was hospitalised, allegedly after he was beaten on the legs with iron bars.

On Thursday Education Minister Marie-Carmel Paule Austin resigned at protest at the "barbarous acts". She castigated police for their "conniving attitude", according to Signal FM Radio in Port-au-Prince.

On Friday Mr Aristide condemned the violence, according to Signal FM.

"What happened last Friday [3 December] is unacceptable," he said.

"We cannot tolerate in any way these unacceptable acts. This is a condemnation of violence regardless of where it comes from, without distinction."


SEE ALSO:
Haiti gets cash injection
26 Jul 03  |  Americas
Haiti police chief goes into exile
23 Jun 03  |  Americas
Fresh violence rocks Haiti
11 Jan 03  |  Americas
Country profile: Haiti
08 Nov 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Haiti
12 Dec 03  |  Country profiles


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