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4 killed in attack on Haiti police station

Opponents of Aristide start fire, free prisoners

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- An armed opposition group seized control of Haiti's fourth-largest city yesterday, burning a police station, freeing prisoners, and leaving at least four people reported dead and 20 wounded in clashes with police.

Members of the Gonaives Resistance Front began the assault shortly after noon in Gonaives. They set the mayor's home on fire, then doused the police station with fuel and lit it as officers fled, Haitian radio reports said.

At least four opponents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide were killed in gun battles with police, Gonaives Resistance Front leader Wynter Etienne told Radio Vision 2000. Radio Metropole reported that 20 people were wounded and more than 100 inmates were freed from the jail.

"Gonaives is liberated," Etienne told reporters in Gonaives. "Aristide has to go. . . . We've liberated the police station and freed the population" from Aristide's rule.

Etienne said the group aims to take control of other towns, while the government pledged to restore order.

The attacks "are terrorist acts undertaken by the armed wing of the opposition," government spokesman Mario Dupuy said. "The police will have to take measures to reestablish order."

Members of the armed group were once allied with Aristide but turned on him last year after their leader, Amiot Metayer, was found murdered Sept. 22. Metayer had long supported Aristide, but many of his followers now accuse the government of involvement in the killing.

Aristide has denied involvement, saying that only the opposition stood to gain.

Members of the group set fire to the home of Gonaives Mayor Stephan Moise and a gas station he owns, private Radio Kiskeya reported.

The group also set fire to a hotel where police often stay, according to a witness who spoke on condition of anonymity.

About 200,000 people live in Gonaives and its surrounding areas. The city, 70 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince, has been the site of many protests led by Metayer's supporters, who recently changed their group's name from the "Cannibal Army" to the Gonaives Resistance Front.

At least 55 people have been killed in the Caribbean country since mid-September in clashes among police, protesters, and Aristide supporters.

Opposition leaders have demanded Aristide's resignation, accusing his government of incompetence and corruption.

Aristide has refused to step down before his term ends in 2006 and has defended his government, saying it has made progress despite many obstacles.

Dupuy, the government spokesman, said the armed attackers in Gonaives did not have the support of most people in the city. He linked the unrest to violence in the nearby Central Plateau, where in the past year at least 25 people have been killed in attacks attributed to a band of former soldiers who oppose Aristide.

Yesterday's clashes in Gonaives occurred a day after Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell of the Bahamas and Colin Granderson, assistant secretary general of the Caribbean Community, concluded talks with the opposition and met separately with Aristide.

Leaders of the opposition Democratic Platform said in a statement yesterday that during the two days of talks, they sought to "explain why Aristide and his government have to go." The opposition leaders said they would "never engage in any kind of negotiation to maintain Aristide in power."

In the capital of Port-au-Prince, meanwhile, hundreds rallied in support of Aristide outside the National Palace yesterday, chanting: "Aristide five years! If they don't like it, 10 years!"

They gathered after the funeral of Aristide supporter Lionel Victor, who was shot with a tear gas canister by police at close range during a clash with antigovernment protesters Jan. 28. Aristide has said an investigation is underway.

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