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Port looted as Haiti unrest spreads

St. Marc residents blockade streets to back insurgents

ST. MARC, Haiti -- Hundreds of Haitians looted televisions, mattresses, and sacks of flour from shipping containers yesterday in this port city, one of several communities seized by rebels in a bloody uprising against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Using felled trees, flaming tires, and car chassis, residents blocked streets throughout St. Marc a day after militants drove out police in gun battles that killed two people. Many residents have formed neighborhood groups to back insurgents in their push to expel the president.

"After Aristide leaves, the country will return to normal," said Axel Philippe, 34, who was among the dozens massed on the highway leading to St. Marc, a city of about 100,000 located some 45 miles northwest of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

At least 18 people have been killed since armed opponents of Aristide began their assault Thursday, setting police stations on fire and driving officers from the northwestern city of Gonaives -- Haiti's fourth-largest city -- and several smaller nearby towns.

Anger has been brewing in Haiti since Aristide's party won flawed legislative elections in 2000. The opposition refuses to join in any new vote unless the president resigns; he insists on serving out his term, which ends in 2006.

At least 69 people have died in clashes between government opponents, police, and Aristide supporters since mid-September.

In the bloodiest fights of recent days, 150 police tried to retake control of Gonaives on Saturday, but left hours later after meeting fierce resistance, witnesses said. At least nine people were killed, seven of them police officers, in gun battles with rebels hiding on side streets and crouched in doorways.

Crowds mutilated and beat the corpses of three police officers. One body was dragged through the street as a man swung at it with a machete and a woman cut off the officer's ear. A police officer was lynched and stripped to his shorts, and residents dropped large rocks on his body.

Haitian radio stations reported claims by other rebels that as many as 14 police were killed in Gonaives on Saturday, but that couldn't be confirmed.

Before dawn yesterday, arsonists burned down a two-story building in northern Cap-Haitien housing the studio of Radio Vision 2000, the independent Haitian broadcaster said.

Rebels continued to rule the streets of Gonaives yesterday, witnesses said, though it was unclear how many armed militants were in the city of 200,000.

Calling the violence acts of terrorism, the government has vowed to regain control of the area, but it was unclear when police planned to return.

Police have deserted at least six other nearby towns, including Ennery, Gros Morne, L'Estere, Anse Rouge, Petite Riviere de l'Artibonite, and Trou du Nord, according to the Haitian Press Network, a local news service.

Attackers set fire to the police stations of Gonaives, St. Marc, and Trou du Nord. In St. Marc, the courthouse also was gutted by flames.

One 22-year-old bystander in St. Marc, David Saint-Louis, was shot in the chest yesterday and said it was a police officer -- in civilian clothing but wearing a badge -- who fired at him near a barricade.

A number of people in both Gonaives and St. Marc said they formed neighborhood committees to aid the militants and keep watch over their areas.

The recent violence started Thursday when members of the Gonaives Resistance Front took control of the Gonaives police station during a five-hour battle.

The Gonaives Resistance Front used to be allied with Aristide, but it turned against him last year and changed its name from the "Cannibal Army," accusing the government of killing its leader Amiot Metayer to keep him from releasing damaging information about Aristide. The government denies it.

Some gunmen in Gonaives wore the camouflage pants and helmets of Haiti's disbanded army. The army ousted Aristide in 1991 during his first term. He was restored in a 1994 US invasion and then disbanded the army, replacing it with a civilian police force.

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