Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Security boosted amid violent protests over prices in Haiti

Security boosted amid violent protests over prices in Haiti

(Read the original article here)

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) — Blue-helmet UN peacekeepers were called in Tuesday to protect Haiti's presidential palace after violent demonstrations against high food and fuel prices broke out in the capital.

At least five people have been killed by gunfire since the protests erupted last week, according to an unofficial count. On Tuesday at least 14 people were rushed to the city's public hospital with bullet wounds, medical sources told AFP.

"This is a provisional injury toll. We're getting a lot of conflicting information," Association of Haitian Doctors president Claude Surena told AFP.

Haitian police clashed with protesters Tuesday and fired in the air to prevent them from breaking into the presidential palace building, witnesses said.

By midday a dozen armored vehicles manned by Brazilian soldiers under the United Nations peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH) took position around the whitewashed palace, firing in the air and hurling tear gas canisters to keep the protesters at bay, witnesses said.

President Rene Preval asked UN peacekeepers to shore up security around the palace, MINUSTAH spokeswoman Sophie Boutaud de la Combe told AFP.

The UN peacekeepers also beat back protesters who were heading to the city's international airport.

The protests began last week after a sudden jump in fuel and basic food commodity prices in the poor country of 8.5 million.

The rice price has doubled from 35 dollars to 70 dollars for a 120-pound sack, and gasoline has seen its third price hike in less than two months.

Two reporters as well as a photographer and a cameraman were wounded by rubber bullets fired by MINUSTAH forces, the sources told AFP.

One journalist had his car's windows shattered and was attacked by a mob of youths that sacked an Air France office, an AFP reporter said.

"People can keep protesting but they have to respect the property of others," Public Security Secretary Luc Euchere told reporters.

Protests also broke out in the Carrefour quarter on the south side of the capital.

"Living conditions are horrible. We are tired of hearing promises, we want fast action," said a protester named Wilson, 25.

Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis condemned the protests while acknowledging the source of the discontent.

On Monday Alexis announced a 42-million-dollar program to ease the situation, including the creation of thousands of jobs for youth and small business grants.

"These measures take time. We need to have patience," he said on a radio station in the capital.

In the city of Cayes on Monday, thousands of protesters attacked the home of legislator Gabriel Fortune, who was rescued by UN troops and evacuated to the capital.

Fortune said the protesters were "manipulated by drug deals and the Lavalas party" of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has lived in exile in South Africa since 2004.

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