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Gunmen Ambush Haiti Protesters, Killing at Least 1

Times Staff Writers

Gunmen hiding inside a state-run television station and elsewhere along the route of an opposition demonstration fired on marchers demanding the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Sunday, killing at least one and wounding several others.

The clash followed another violent melee Friday, when thousands of Aristide opponents tried to march to the presidential palace with the coffin of a protester killed the previous week in escalating unrest in the Haitian capital.

Strikes and marches have become almost daily events as Aristide’s political opponents seek to force him from office. They say the former priest has armed and instigated mobs of poor youths to attack those demanding that he resign and let an interim government rule until fresh elections can be organized.

Police patrolling the demonstration route intervened and chased attackers firing from the TV station. The move to deter the pro-Aristide gangs drew applause from bystanders who have become accustomed to seeing officers stand by idly in such attacks. Police arrested two of the suspected gunmen, witnesses said. Authorities said that one of the demonstrators wounded in the attack died of his injuries.

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Hooded men also fired shots at marchers -- estimated at 4,000 -- who were heading to their cars and bus stops after the protest. Two men, including a street vendor who was not part of the protest, suffered serious wounds and were being treated at a local hospital, Radio Vision 2000 reported.

On Saturday, Aristide repeated oft-aired warnings that the rallies against him were attempts at a coup d’etat that would lead to death and destruction throughout the country. He has steadfastly refused to step down and told officials of the Caribbean Community last week that he would ensure parliamentary elections were held within six months. He made the same promise a year ago.

The president has two years remaining in his term, but the Haitian Parliament ceased to exist this month because legislative elections due last year were never held. Aristide and his Lavalas Party blame opposition parties for failing to agree to an election timetable.

The Group of 184, a civil society alliance, and the Democratic Convergence, a political party coalition, have held back representatives to a nine-person electoral committee in protest of threats and abuses allegedly committed by pro-Aristide gangs.

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Aristide was elected president by a landslide in 1990, the first freely elected leader in Haiti’s troubled post-colonial history. He was deposed in a coup seven months later, then restored to power in 1994 by a U.S. invasion. Aristide was elected to a second term in 2000 after supporting a Lavalas ally in the 1996 election in which he was constitutionally prohibited from running.

Under Haiti’s Constitution, Aristide cannot seek a third term.

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Loomis reported from Port-au-Prince and Williams from Miami.

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