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Gunfire Erupts During Powell's Visit to Haiti

By Anne Gearan
Associated Press
Thursday, December 2, 2004; Page A25

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Dec. 1 -- Heavy gunfire rang out near Haiti's presidential palace Wednesday as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met with the country's interim leaders. Powell said international peacekeeping troops needed to come down hard on street toughs and those who carry out political violence in Haiti.

"They have to forcefully take on those armed individuals of the kind who were firing this morning," Powell said after meetings at the National Palace with President Boniface Alexandre, Prime Minister Gerard Latortue and other political leaders.

U.S. Marines take position behind a van at Haiti's presidential palace in Port-au-Prince after gunfire was heard in a slum several blocks away. (Ariana Cubillos -- AP)

After Powell wrapped up his trip, shots continued to echo through the streets. Four people were killed and at least 11 injured.

Most of the clashes occurred in Bel Air, a slum loyal to ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The slum is several blocks from the National Palace.

Haiti is still beset with violence and political infighting as the one-year anniversary of Aristide's ouster approaches in February. The country's caretaker government has pledged open elections next fall, a goal Powell said Haiti could meet with outside help.

"The only outcome that will satisfy the U.S. is an election next year that is free and fair . . . that is not fraudulent and stolen," Powell said later during his one-day trip to shore up democratic efforts in the desperately poor country.

The United States, and Powell in particular, have been instrumental in Haiti's chaotic power shifts over the past decade. Powell was once an Aristide supporter but helped arrange Aristide's exile this year.

Gunshots, including several long bursts of automatic-weapons fire, were heard in front of the palace shortly after Powell entered with a small U.S. delegation. A palace security official said a shot was fired from a passing car, and U.N. forces guarding the palace returned fire.

Shots were also fired at the U.S. Embassy, according to a U.N. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Witnesses also reported shots being fired at the National Palace and the National Penitentiary.

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