updated 10/28/2004 6:03:24 PM ET 2004-10-28T22:03:24

Gunbattles broke out between militant supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and police Thursday as residents in a slum accused police of executing at least 10 people two days earlier.

Aristide loyalists blocked one of the capital's main arteries, Delmas Road, with charred carcasses of vehicles, paralyzing traffic. Gunfire could be heard blocks away. Aristide militants shot at police from behind car shells, and residents locked their doors. It was unclear if anyone was wounded or killed in the shootouts.

Elsewhere, two other cars were set aflame on the capital's seaside road, where gunfire was reported. Several people telephoned Radio Vision 2000, saying at least four were killed by armed civilians.

The surge in violence marks growing chaos in Haiti and an increasingly difficult challenge for a U.S.-backed interim government that has promised elections next year. Armed rebels whose revolt led up to Aristide's ouster still control many parts of the countryside, while in the capital Aristide partisans dominate the slums and are persisting with protests to demand his return from exile in South Africa.

Dozens of deaths
The shootings followed nearly a month of violence that has killed at least 62 people — not including at least 10 who residents said were executed by police Tuesday during a raid.

Police and interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue denied the accusations.

As occasional gunshots crackled around Fort National, a warren of alleyways and one-room homes, witnesses and victims' relatives described the executions.

"I was on the roof taking clothes off the line when my friend Reginald was trying to run away from them," said Renemise Joseph, 23. "They shot him in the mouth. Then they dragged him away and I heard another shot. We couldn't see anything else because when they arrived they shouted: 'Everybody get down, get down.'"

She said that from the rooftop she saw men with black hoods, masks and helmets, the typical uniform of the Haitian riot police squad.

Latortue said it was definitely not an official police operation. "I can assure you categorically of that for a fact," he told The Associated Press. "We have nothing to do with that."

Instead, he suggested the attackers were agents of Aristide trying to destabilize Haiti. "These black uniforms, you can buy them anywhere," he said. "This is part of the orchestrated campaign by people close to Aristide."

Aristide, who left Haiti Feb. 29 amid a bloody revolt, has denied involvement in violence and accused the United States of orchestrating his ouster, a charge the U.S. government vehemently denies.

No signs of investigation
Latortue mentioned no plan to investigate the killings, and witnesses and victims' relatives interviewed by The Associated Press said no police had come to investigate.

Joseph identified her dead friend as Reginald Francois, 25. His brother Gary Francois said he saw Reginald's body and seven others at Port-au-Prince's general morgue Wednesday. He said he recognized three he knew by the nicknames Jean-Jean, Fan-fan and Deux Cuilleres, and all had been shot. He said his brother's hands were bound with a black cord.

Francois said the gunmen arrived in five vehicles, including a blue pickup truck like those used by police and a white Nissan Patrol like those driven by Haitian senators. He said none of the cars had license plates.

Another Francois brother, Luc, said his brother and the others "didn't do anything to hurt anybody.... They didn't have jobs. They would pass the time playing music, playing dominoes, watching television. They only other thing they did was smoke some weed. They had no guns. They were never into anything violent. They were not into politics."

Witnesses said when the men arrived they went down a winding corridor, past several homes, shouting "Get down!" Neighbors said they heard young men pleading for their lives, shouting "Have mercy, don't shoot!"

‘It was a massacre’
An old woman afraid to give her name said "It was a massacre. They didn't ask them anything. They just shot them."

Later an ambulance without license plates arrived and its occupants dragged the cadavers into the ambulance, then drove away, witnesses said. The masked men then left too.

Gary Francois said 10 young men and three women including a girl were killed.

He said they were told by others that other bodies were left at the Titanyen garbage dump, a site along the northbound highway out of Port-Au-Prince where many were executed under past military dictatorships.

The private Radio Metropole quoted relatives saying one victim, Mackenson Elira, was shot, then stabbed in the side at the dump and left for dead — but was able to escape and was at a hospital.

Thursday was the last day of a three-day protest strike called by Aristide supporters to demand the release of dozens recently arrested. But downtown businesses, out of earshot from gunfire, stayed open while traffic filled dusty streets.

Aristide loyalists also have been demanding an end to the "occupation" by troops in the U.N. peacekeeping force. On Thursday some 200 Spanish troops began coming ashore from a ship in northern Cap-Haitien to join the Brazilian-led force.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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