10 April 2008

Haiti president appeals for calm

Haiti president appeals for calm

From correspondents in Port-Au-Prince | April 10, 2008

FRESH violence broke out in Haiti today, forcing UN peacekeepers to intervene as President Rene Preval appealed for calm and ordered a clampdown on deadly protests against high food prices.

For the second day in a row, UN soldiers pushed back demonstrators trying to reach the presidential palace using tear gas and firing in the air, radio reporters said.

It was not immediately known if there were any casualties today. According to an unofficial count, five have been killed by gunfire and about 40 have been wounded since the unrest erupted last Friday.

"The solution to the high cost of living is global and we are paying the price for all the bad policies applied for 20 years in Haiti," Mr Preval said in a televised address.

"I have ordered the Haitian police and UN soldiers to put an end to the looting," he said, adding violence "will not resolve the country's problems".

The US State Department announced it had suspended the operations of its embassy until the violence subsides in the poorest country in the Americas.

"We suspended embassy operations for today because of some of the violence and demonstrations that's taken place in Haiti," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"We fully hope and expect that over time those demonstrations will dissipate and we will get back to a situation where we can continue normal embassy operations."

Thousands have been demonstrating since Friday in the capital of the impoverished Caribbean nation against rising food and fuel prices.

Blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers were called in yesterday to protect the presidential palace as the demonstrations turned violent.

Port-au-Prince was paralysed again today while several stores were ransacked by protesters armed with clubs, some holding guns, according to witnesses.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon appealed for calm and "urges all demonstrators to refrain from any further acts of violence," his office said.

He also deplored attacks against the personnel and facilities of the 10,000-strong UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) as well as against the Haitian government and private property.

Group of youths again erected barricades of old tyres in different areas of the capital Port-au-Prince.

"We are trying to control the situation. Our police are putting out fires lit in the barricades which are blocking the roads," police spokesman Frantz Lerebours said.

"We will punish the pillagers," he said.

The protests began last week after a sudden jump in fuel and basic food commodity prices in the poor country of 8.5 million people.

The rice price has doubled from $US35 ($37.63) to $US70 ($75.27) for a 54.4kg sack, and petrol has seen its third price hike in less than two months.



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