Four Haitians and Spanish journalist die in anti-Aristide protests

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The Independent US

Five people were killed and more than thirty were injured as thousands of Haitians demonstrated against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the ousted president, in Port-au-Prince yesterday.

Up to 10,000 Haitians, poor and wealthy alike, marched on the country's presidential palace demanding that Mr Aristide be tried for alleged corruption.

Four demonstrators and a Spanish television journalist were killed when gunmen loyal to Mr Aristide opened fire. Ricardo Ortega, a cameraman with the Spanish television channel Antena 3, was shot in the stomach and died at Port-au-Prince's Canape Vert hospital.

A few thousand Aristide supporters marched last week in support of the man they elected, who fled the country under American and French pressure eight days ago.

Fearing yesterday's demonstrators might be attacked by the president's supporters, US and French troops patrolled near the march and Haitian riot police and special forces flanked it on the descent from the wealthy suburb of Pétionville.

Wealthy Haitians drove down in expensive vehicles, while the poor made the march down the slopes above Port-au-Prince on foot. Together, they gathered in front of the white palace, criticising Mr Aristide and praising Boniface Alexandre, the interim president.

Some carried banners thanking President George Bush for sending marines and "getting rid of the terrorist Aristide", while others criticised "the US occupation".

At the palace, US snipers were in evidence. The atmosphere was calm until a few hundred of the poor protesters set fire to their banners and started a bonfire.

When gunfire broke out on the Champs de Mars plaza, the troops had disappeared, witnesses said. "The peace-keepers were nowhere near where the shooting was," said Almil Costel, 31, who was shot twice in the left shoulder.

Colonel Daniel Leplatois, commanding the French soldiers, said: "We're not able to secure the lives of all of the demonstrators."