University students marched against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, sparking deadly clashes amid a swelling opposition movement against the leader.
At least two people were killed and more than two dozen injured in Wednesday’s protests, the latest in a series aimed at forcing Aristide to step down.
Protests by university students carry great weight in the country of 8 million, where about 40 percent of the people are under 18.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Michael Bloomberg said the New York mayor still plans to visit Haiti’s capital despite the violence.
“At this point, the trip is a go,” Bloomberg spokesman Ed Skyler said Wednesday. Bloomberg plans to arrive in Port-au-Prince on Sunday and stay for about five hours before traveling to Jamaica. About 118,000 New Yorkers are of Haitian descent, according to the 2000 census.
In Haiti, Aristide partisans armed with clubs, bottles and pistols, blocked the marchers, who were joined by thousands of anti-government demonstrators shouting “Freedom!” and “Down with Aristide!” as riot police fired shots to keep the two sides apart.
At the beginning of the protest, Aristide partisans attacked demonstrators, hitting one with a rock and shooting another. Later, police shot and killed an Aristide supporter after he opened fire on the crowd. One anti-government protester also was shot and killed.
At another leg of the march, government partisans opened fire, wounding two demonstrators. The Aristide supporters then surrounded a group of students, stabbing one and beating six others. Students beat two Aristide supporters.
News reports said that 30 people were injured and being treated at hospitals.
“We have no future,” student Rodeny Williams said Wednesday as he marched to shouts of support by shopkeepers and street vendors. “We are not afraid.”
Accusations against Aristide
Gunfire crackled throughout the day as smoke billowed from burning tire barricades and demonstrators regrouped when Aristide supporters attacked with bullets and rocks. Organizers stopped the march when police warned they could no longer guarantee security.
The anti-government demonstrators and students accuse Aristide of hoarding power and failing to help the poor.
Student protests and strikes helped oust President Elie Lescot in 1946, followed by Paul Magloire in 1956. Their opposition also led to the weakening of the Duvalier family dictatorship, which imprisoned many students during its 29-year regime until 1986.
The marchers join a swelling youth protest movement as many face a bleak future. Most Haitians are jobless or without regular work, foreign investment is at a standstill and foreign visas to countries such as the United States and France are increasingly hard to obtain.
“Under Aristide there will be no progress,” said protester Leopold Willeens, a 26-year-old student. “I’m the first student in my family to go to university, and I want a better life.”
Last month, at least two dozen were injured in violence that broke out after police separated dozens of Aristide backers from about 100 students.
After the ouster of the Duvalier family dictatorship, Aristide was elected in 1990 but overthrown the next year. He was restored in 1994 during a U.S. invasion, serving for two years until a limit on consecutive terms forced him to step down. He has been dogged by political troubles since his 2000 re-election, largely because of legislative elections that observers said were flawed.
The opposition refuses to participate in new elections unless Aristide steps down, but he says he plans to serve out his elected term until 2006.