Haitian students march against Aristide

Thursday, January 8, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Following the example of student movements that helped topple two presidents, university students marched against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Wednesday in a protest marred by bloody clashes that killed at least one person and wounded 13.

Aristide partisans armed with clubs, bottles and pistols jumped down from pickups to block the marchers, who were joined by thousands of anti-government demonstrators shouting "Freedom!" and "Down with Aristide!" Riot police fired shots to keep government partisans away.

At the beginning of the protest, Aristide supporters attacked demonstrators, hitting one with a rock and shooting another. Later, police shot and killed an Aristide supporter after he opened fire on the crowd.

At another leg of the march, government partisans opened fire, wounding two demonstrators. The Aristide supporters then surrounded a group of students, stabbing one and beating six others. Students beat two Aristide supporters.

"Under Aristide there will be no progress," said protester Leopold Willeens, 26. "I'm the first student in my family to go to university, and I want a better life."

Gunfire crackled throughout the day as smoke billowed from burning tire barricades. Demonstrators re-grouped when Aristide supporters attacked with bullets and rocks. Organizers stopped the march when police warned they couldn't guarantee security.

Student protests and strikes helped oust President Elie Lescot in 1946, followed by Paul Magloire in 1956. Their opposition also led to the weakening of the Duvalier family dictatorship, which imprisoned many students during its 29-year regime until 1986.

The marchers join a swelling youth protest movement as many face a bleak future. Most Haitians are jobless or without regular work, foreign investment is at a standstill and foreign visas to countries such as the United States and France are increasingly hard to obtain.

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