Haitian Troops and Marchers Clash; 6 Die
Soldiers fired into a crowd marching on Haiti’s main prison Saturday, killing three demonstrators, and three others were electrocuted when power lines were knocked down, witnesses reported.
The march, involving an estimated 10,000 people, had been called to mark the 23rd anniversary of a crackdown by the Duvalier family government then in power.
Hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said at least 15 people were injured, including one who was critically wounded by gunfire.
Groups of youths later took to the streets of the capital and formed barricades with burning tires. “We don’t want the army anymore!” they shouted.
Local journalists, who were in the front of the procession, said about 3,000 people began the march from the downtown Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church following a memorial service.
Crowd Swells to 10,000
By the time they reached the Ft. Dimanche Prison three miles away, the crowd had swelled to 10,000, the journalists said. The prison, on the edge of the Port-au-Prince harbor, is believed to have held political prisoners during the authoritarian rule of the Duvalier family.
Soldiers at the prison first lobbed tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd and then opened fire, killing three people, when the marchers reached the gate in the barbed-wire fence surrounding the prison, witnesses said.
Army Capt. Isidor Pongnon, the officer in charge at Ft. Dimanche, said he had orders to establish a cordon across the front of the prison to keep the crowd under control.
“We received word from headquarters that they were holding a symbolic march,” Pongnon said. “But they tried to storm the prison.”
He said that his men fired into the air but that demonstrators began to stone the soliders.
Pongnon added that the chief organizer of the march, opposition leader Francois Benoit, tried unsuccessfully to calm the crowd.
Red Cross officials, who also demanded anonymity, said three people were electrocuted when electric power lines fell onto the rain-drenched street.
Pongnon said demonstrators pulled down the power lines. A local journalist said electrical wires were dangling from poles but quoted people in the crowd as saying the wires might have fallen after being hit by gunfire.
The march was called to mark the anniversary of the government crackdown on April 26, 1963, when gunmen shot to death two bodyguards and the chauffeur who had just dropped off at a school the young son and daughter of then-President Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier.
‘Baby Doc’ Not Injured
Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier, now 34, and his sister, Simone, were not injured. Jean-Claude was named president for life in 1971 following the death of his father, but he fled the country last Feb. 7 after violent anti-government demonstrations.
In the crackdown that followed the shootings of the bodyguards and chauffeur, Benoit’s mother, father and infant son were killed, and he subsequently fled Haiti. Dozens of other deaths were also reported.
Benoit, now in his 60s, returned to Port-au-Prince from Chicago to help organize Saturday’s demonstration, according to an acquaintance who identified himself only as a family friend. Another organizer was Robert Duval, head of the Assn. of Former Political Detainees.
Haiti has been governed by a military-civilian council since Duvalier’s ouster.