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Haiti protests united nations persecution { January 12 2006 }

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Thursday, January 12, 2006 Last updated 5:12 p.m. PT

Protesters in Haiti denounce violence


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Chanting protesters filled the narrow streets of a notorious slum on Thursday to denounce violence and political chaos after clashes between gangs and U.N. peacekeepers reportedly killed one person and wounded at least 17.

Hundreds of people, including political activists, gang members and children, shuffle-danced to the blaring of horns and banging of drums toward two U.N. armored personnel carriers at the edge of Cite Soleil, then veered off toward the sea without confronting the peacekeepers who patrol the slum's perimeter.

Organizers said they feared that U.N. peacekeeping troops would soon attack Cite Soleil, a warren of bullet-riddled shanties with raw sewage flowing in trash-clogged canals.

The peacekeepers are under pressure to take more aggressive measures against slum gangs that authorities have blamed for a wave of kidnappings in the Haitian capital.

"The population is standing up to say 'No' to U.N. persecution in Cite Soleil," said John Joel Joseph, an activist for Lavalas, the political party of ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. "Every day, we are counting dead bodies."

On Wednesday, shooting broke out between the two sides after nightfall, according to aid workers and residents.

One of the wounded was a 12-year-old girl who was shot in the thigh. On Thursday, she was sprawled on a dingy mat in the shade of a concrete wall, shielding her eyes from the blazing sun.

Sushil Kujur, who works at a Missionaries of Charity clinic at the edge of the slum, said workers treated seven people with gunshot wounds, including a man who was shot in the abdomen and died on the way to a hospital. Another 10 people were treated by the Belgian and French sections of the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, officials said.

The aid groups said they couldn't be certain where the gunfire came from.

Kujur said his clinic has treated about 70 people for gunshot wounds in the last four months, including 10 who later died, and that some were not involved in clashes with U.N. troops.

"They are hitting innocent people," he said.

U.N. spokesman Damian Onses-Cardona said he did not have any information on the violence.

Cite Soleil, home to some 300,000 people, is a stronghold for supporters of Aristide, who was forced to flee the country following a rebellion nearly two years ago, and of Rene Preval, a one-time ally of the ousted president who is considered the front-runner in the Feb. 7 presidential election.

Meanhwhile, Onses-Cardona said a preliminary investigation has confirmed that the Brazilian commander of U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti, who was found shot to death on Saturday, had committed suicide.

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