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Violence Mars Powell's Haiti Visit

Secretary of State Colin Powell meets with Prime Minister Gerard Latortue during a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince Haiti,Wednesday, Dec. 01,2004.(AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
AP
Gunfire crackled across Haiti's capital Thursday, a day after a prison riot and shootouts killed a dozen people and left scores injured during U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit aimed at halting bloodshed and promoting democracy.

City workers dragged the bullet-riddled body of park gardener James Hipolite, 24, from the steps of a national monument in front of the National Palace on Thursday morning. Witnesses said the man was shot when U.N. troops fired in response to shooting near the palace as Powell was meeting with Haiti's interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue on Wednesday.

The bullet-pocked monument, honoring founding father Jean-Jacques Dessalines, is across the street from the palace. There was no immediate comment from U.N. troops.

"The situation of security? There is none," said Ulrich Balthazar, a security guard at Independence Park who said he witnessed Wednesday's shooting. "We're demanding Latortue leave because he cannot lead the country. We need someone competent."

Latortue was named to head an interim government supported by the United States following a three-week rebellion that forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to flee the country Feb. 29.

Despite sporadic gunfire Thursday that wounded at least three people in different parts of the capital, merchants returned to the streets and business was running normally. U.N. peacekeepers patrolled streets on foot and in vehicles.

Wednesday's violence, likely orchestrated to coincide with Powell's visit, underscored the daunting challenges confronting Latortue's government, which has promised to hold elections late next year.

More than 100 people have been killed in political violence since Sept. 30, when Aristide groups stepped up protests demanding his return.

Tensions have also been mounting between the interim government and former soldiers who led the rebellion and want the reinstatement of the army, which they say Aristide illegally disbanded in 1994. They also want backpay and refuse to put down their arms.

Latortue has accused Aristide of orchestrating the violence from exile in South Africa — a charge Aristide has denied. Aristide claims the United Stated forced him to leave the country, a claim U.S. officials deny.

"They have to forcefully take on those armed individuals of the kind who were firing this morning," Powell said late Wednesday before leaving the strife-torn country.

Seven prisoners were killed as Powell left the country late Wednesday, prison director Fritzner Pierre said. Armed with knives and rocks, they tried to break free as gunmen outside opened fire, said Pierre, who believed the disturbance was connected to plans to transfer some inmates.

Pierre said the slain inmates were killed by other prisoners for refusing to go along with their plan. Many being held there are members of Aristide's administration but there was no immediate information on the identities of those killed. Nor was it clear if any arrests had been made in the killings.

The prison uprising came after shooting broke out in the Aristide stronghold of Bel Air, blocks away from the National Palace.

Gunshots, including several long bursts of automatic fire, erupted in front of the palace shortly after Powell entered. A palace security official said a shot was fired from a passing car, and U.N. forces guarding the palace returned fire. Balthazar said that was when the gardener was killed.

In addition, five people were killed in shooting around Bel Air and scores were wounded, according to a count of bodies and patients at Port-au-Prince General Hospital.

U.N. peacekeepers, now at 6,000 members, were placed on alert for more violence.

"The security situation is getting worse everyday," said Balthazar Yvonne, 45, whose 18-year-old son was shot Wednesday and who was undergoing surgery at Port-au-Prince General Hospital.