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Archive for Sunday, February 8, 2004

Police move to retake Haitian city from protesters

February 8, 2004

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— Police clashed Saturday with rebels who have occupied this city for two days, and the insurgents promised to keep fighting until Haiti's embattled president steps down.

Under a hail of rocks, the 150 police entered Gonaives in a slow push to the city center, where gunshots turned into furious street battles with the Gonaives Resistance Front. At least one police officer was shot dead in the crossfire, and a bystander was wounded by a bullet in his cheek.

The rebels captured Haiti's fourth-largest city on Thursday, one of the boldest threats in months to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide -- struggling to keep control of a population impatient with years of poverty and turmoil.

"I'm not a terrorist. I am fighting for the Haitian people," militant leader Wilfort Ferdinand, 27, said during a lull from a second-floor balcony overlooking the streets of Gonaives.

"I am ready to lay down my weapons as soon as Aristide leaves. Gonaives today is in the hands of the resistance," he said, holding an M-16 rifle fitted with a telescopic sight.

Militants hid on side streets and crouched in doorways, many armed with rifles.

"If the battle turns against us, retreat," a militant commander called out to several other gunmen.

"Look, we're going to get them. We're going to draw them into a trap," said the commander, who refused to give his name.

The Gonaives Resistance Front once was allied with Aristide. But the group turned against him last year, accusing his government of assassinating its leader.

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