updated 12/16/2003 9:32:38 AM ET 2003-12-16T14:32:38

Police hurled tear gas canisters and fired shots in the air Monday to break up a protest by hundreds of university students who want President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to step down.

Police arrested at least three people as they halted a protest for the fourth time in less than a week. Some 300 students scattered to avoid the tear gas, and no one was hurt.

Protesters defied a police warning issued hours earlier saying they must notify authorities of any demonstration 48 hours in advance. Protesters said they won’t tip off a police force that they consider allied with Aristide.

“We will persist. We will prevail. We won’t be cowed by this dictatorship,” said protester Sadrac Jean, 22. “Aristide must go.”

Meanwhile, opposition parties and a coalition of business associations, labor unions, human rights groups and others called a general strike Tuesday.

“We protest against the police communique that restricts our liberty,” said Andy Apaid Jr., a leading government opponent.

Defending the police
Minister of Culture and Communication Lilas Desquiron defended the police, saying protests must comply with the law and “people cannot hold the capital hostage.”

Before police halted the march, students shouted: “They’ve caught Saddam (Hussein), we’ve still got Aristide!”

Tensions are increasing amid violence that killed at least two and wounded 10 last week.
Aristide supporters set up flaming tire barricades as an apparent warning to opponents.

Protests have increased as Haiti’s situation has deteriorated, with its 8 million people facing worsening poverty.

“I’m not for one side or the other, but things have got to change. I’m starving,” said 28-year-old Margarethe Jean, a mother of two, as she watched marchers. “I can’t feed my kids today. I don’t know how I’m going to feed them.”

At least 21 people have died during clashes since mid-September.

The government says the protesters are trying to spoil state-sponsored celebrations Jan. 1 on Haiti’s bicentennial.

In northern Cap-Haitien, gunmen opened fire Sunday at a vehicle carrying governing party Sen. Pierre Soncon Prince, but he was unhurt, Haitian radio reports said. Last week, Prince had urged Aristide to quit.

Aristide, Haiti’s first freely elected leader, was deposed in a 1991 coup and restored in a 1994 U.S. invasion. He stepped down in 1996 because of term limits and was re-elected in 2000.

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