Haiti Gunmen Open Fire on Crowd; 5 Dead
By IAN JAMES and PAISLEY DODDS
The Associated Press
Sunday, March 7, 2004; 8:00 PM
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Gunmen opened fired Sunday on thousands of unarmed demonstrators calling for the prosecution of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, killing four protesters and a foreign journalist in the worst attack since the Haitian president's fall.
U.S. Marines returned fire - the first known armed action by U.S. forces sent to stabilize the country - but angry survivors accused the Marines and their French colleagues of not doing enough to prevent the attack.
Blood slicked the floors of a private hospital where victims were rushed. Women screamed and men cried as the few doctors tried to treat the injured with little medication.
A French Air Force helicopter made a dramatic landing on the road in front of the private Canape Vert Hospital, and two men descended to wheel a gurney of emergency medical supplies to the gate. Most of the victims were in serious condition with wounds from assault rifles, said surgeon Ronald Georges.
Several witnesses said they saw Aristide militants open fire from across the vast Champs de Mars plaza as thousands gathered in front of the presidential National Palace. U.S. Marine Maj. Richard Crusan said it was unclear who the gunmen were.
He told The Associated Press that three Marines returned fire from the palace in the direction of the gunshots.
Ricardo Ortega, a New York correspondent for the Spanish television station Antena 3, was shot in the stomach and died at the hospital. He had taken a leave of absence but volunteered to cover Haiti, the network said from Madrid.
Also killed was Haitian Cesar Milfort, whom relatives described as an unemployed former university student.
Among more than 30 injured people was South Florida Sun-Sentinel photographer Michael Laughlin, 37, who was shot in the shoulder and face but was in stable condition at the hospital.
Some witnesses said gunmen first appeared outside the old Defense Ministry building on the plaza, then kneeled on the sidewalk and opened fire.
Others said gunmen in two all-terrain vehicles started the shooting, while others said they saw gunmen shooting down from the roof of a movie theater.
"The peacekeepers were nowhere near where the shooting was," said Almil Costel, 31, who was shot twice in the left shoulder.
Crusan said the Marines moved vehicles in front of the National Palace when the shooting started. He said no Marines were wounded.
French commander Col. Daniel Leplatois defended the peacekeepers: "We're not able to secure the lives of all of the demonstrators."
© 2004 The Associated Press