- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday called on the world community to help Haiti “forcefully take on armed individuals” who want to thwart democratic rule in their impoverished nation. Gunfire erupted in a slum several blocks from the palace where Mr. Powell met with Haitian leaders.

The gunfire broke out in an area that is a stronghold for supporters of ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, as Mr. Powell was meeting at the National Palace with President Boniface Alexandre, Prime Minister Gerard Latortue and other Aristide opponents.

When asked about the incident, Mr. Powell said the remedy to such sporadic violence is for the international community to work to disarm thugs.

“They have to forcefully take on those armed individuals of the kind who were firing this morning,” Mr. Powell said.

Damian Onses Cardona, a spokesman for the peacekeeping troops from the United Nations, said occupants of a passing car fired into the air in the Bel Air slum, an Aristide stronghold several blocks from the palace. Members of a 125-member Jordanian police force working with U.N. troops rushed to the scene and fired shots into the air, Mr. Cardona said. No one was injured, and it was not clear whether anyone was arrested.

“Powell was, at no time, in danger,” Mr. Cardona said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said that at the time of the gunshots, Mr. Powell was in a holding room at the palace before his meetings.

Despite the presence of Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping troops, the rebels and former soldiers have refused to abandon police stations nationwide.

The U.S.-backed interim government has accused Mr. Aristide of orchestrating recent political violence from exile in South Africa. Mr. Aristide has denied the accusation.

At least 89 persons have been killed in politically linked violence since Sept. 30, when pro-Aristide groups stepped up protests demanding his return.

Besides Mr. Alexandre and Mr. Latortue, Mr. Powell was seeing leaders from various civil and political groups in Haiti, most of whom opposed Mr. Aristide, who was ousted in February.

The trip yesterday was likely to be Mr. Powell’s last to Haiti as the United States’ top diplomat. He announced last month that he would leave his post in President Bush’s second term, and Mr. Bush nominated White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as Mr. Powell’s successor.

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