Nine die in Haiti street battles as rebels seize town

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The Independent US

Hundreds of people looted shipping containers in the Haitian town of St Marc yesterday, a day after armed opponents of the government drove police out in a widening uprising against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Police also withdrew from the larger city of Gonaives,north of St Marc, after failing to defeat rebels in street battles that killed at least nine people on Saturday, witnesses said. Opponents of Mr Aristide said they set up barricades yesterday to block the main north-south highway in Cabaret, south-east of St Marc and about 13 miles north-west of Port-au-Prince, the capital.

At least two people in St Marc were killed on Saturday when gunmen seized the police station and set it and the courthouse next door on fire, residents said. One wounded man told journalists yesterday he was shot in the chest by a police officer wearing civilian clothes.

Residents blocked streets in St Marc with felled trees, barbed wire, boulders, flaming tyres and car chassis. Axel Philippe, 34, one of the dozens of people massed on the highway to the town, said: "After Aristide leaves, the country will return to normal."

Hundreds of people carried away spoils, including mattresses, television sets, sacks of flour and iron beams from shipping containers that they pried open at the town's port.

Members of an opposition group known as Ramicos said they seized control of St Marc with the help of other opponents of Mr Aristide.

Witnesses said police pulled out of Gonaives late on Saturday after a day of gun battles with rebels of the Gonaives Resistance Front, who had taken control on Thursday. The government has vowed to regain control after the attacks.

Those killed on Saturday in Gonaives included at least seven police and two militants. Crowds mutilated the corpses of some police officers; one body was dragged through the street as a man swung at it with a machete, and a woman cut off the officer's ear. Another policeman was lynched and stripped to his shorts before residents dropped a large rock on his corpse.

Four other police were killed after their vehicle overturned, one militant said. He said police killed two militants who were building barricades.

Militants have attacked police stations in at least five small towns near Gonaives since Friday, Haitian radio reports said.