Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New violent protests in Haiti

We we're hoping that violent protests wouldn't begin to flare up in Haiti, but if you leave people squatting in tents long enough, then it's bound to happen.

Protests against the Haitian government and armed peacekeepers turned violent in Haiti on Monday. Rocks were thrown at the armed peacekeepers and they responded by spraying tear gas into the tent villages.

From IPS, writer Ansel Herz reports from from the Port-au-Prince tent camps that surround the Haitian capital palace.

Three volunteer doctors from the NGO Partners in Health who were working in the emergency room of the General Hospital said they treated at least six individuals with wounds from rubber bullets.

"They were bleeding," Sarah McMillan, a doctor from New Hampshire, told IPS. "There was a little girl with a big laceration on her face. It needed about 10 stitches. She'll probably have a scar."

Thousands of families are crowded into the public squares in the Champs du Mars zone around the palace, after the earthquake killed at least 200,000 people and drove nearly two million from destroyed neighbourhoods.

A coalition of political organisations called Tet Kole, Haitian Creole for "Heads Together", has staged protests in the area for the past month, demanding the resignation of President René Préval over his handling of the post-earthquake crisis.

The walls of the Faculty of Ethnology school are dotted with graffiti denouncing Préval and the United Nations. Students said they gave Brazilian peacekeeping troops stationed in jeeps outside the campus the middle finger sign late Monday afternoon.

When the troops tried to enter the campus, angrily calling students thieves and vagabonds, the students showered them with rocks. As the soldiers fled, they fired three bullet rounds in the air and one of them struck the front-facing wall of the school, students said.

When the troops returned in bigger vehicles, Frantz Mathieu Junior said he ran to hide in a bathroom, but the soldiers kicked the thin wooden door open. Junior said he was forced to the ground and kicked repeatedly, then taken away. He says he was force-fed while in detention.

The students showed IPS on Tuesday the cracks in the wooden door and the bullet hole next to a second-storey window. After Junior was taken on Monday, they took to the streets in an angry protest, throwing more rocks.

The opposition protests continued Tuesday afternoon in Chanmas. Scores of U.N. troops and Haitian police ringed the national palace with barricades. The demonstrators accuse President Préval of seeking to grab power by extending his mandate past the original end date. Parliament approved the extension.

Some are also upset with the Haiti Interim Recovery Commission, which directs the spending of nearly 10 billion dollars in aid money. A majority of the commission members are foreigners, though Préval has a final veto on all decisions.

"If they want to suppress the protest, why didn't they shoot the gas at the school where the students are?" asked Malia Villa, an organiser with the Haitian women's group KONFAVIV, who fled the Chanmas area Monday night. "How can they shoot it in the middle of the camp, where we have children and families? They say they're here for security in the country, but how can the government work with them now when they do this?"

"We can't continue to tolerate this anymore. It's revolting to us," she told IPS, throwing up her hands.

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