- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 16, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti | Anti-U.N. riots spread to several Haitian cities and towns, as protesters blaming a contingent of Nepalese peacekeepers for an outbreak of cholera that has killed more than 1,000 people exchanged gunfire with U.N. soldiers. Protesters continued to barricade some roads on Tuesday.

The protests left at least two people dead. A demonstrator was fatally shot by a U.N. peacekeeper during an exchange of gunfire in Quartier Morin, near Haiti’s second-largest city, Cap-Haitien, the U.N. mission said. It said it was investigating the shooting, but asserted the soldier acted in self-defense.

Haitian Senate President Kelly Bastien told Radio Vision 2000 that a second demonstrator was fatally shot in Cap-Haitien itself. He did not know who shot him.

The 12,000-member force reported that at least six U.N. personnel were wounded in protests at Hinche in the central plateau, while local Radio Metropole reported that at least 12 Haitians were injured in Cap-Haitien.

The protests apparently began in Cap-Haitien early Monday and within hours had paralyzed much of the northern port city. An APTN television cameraman trying to reach the area was repelled by protesters throwing rocks and bottles from a barricade.

As the day went on, other protests broke out in surrounding towns and the central plateau. Local reporters said a police station was burned in Cap-Haitien and rocks thrown at peacekeeping bases. A small protest was also reported in the northwestern city of Gonaives, but U.N. police said it ended peacefully.

The U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH, dismissed the protests as politically motivated, linking them to the fast-approaching Nov. 28 presidential elections.

“The way events unfolded suggests that these incidents were politically motivated, aimed at creating a climate of insecurity on the eve of elections. MINUSTAH calls the people to remain vigilant and not be manipulated by enemies of stability and democracy in the country,” the mission said in a statement.

Officials said investigations to determine if the protesters’ suspicions are correct will have to wait. The U.N.’s World Health Organization said in Geneva on Tuesday that efforts should focus on controlling the disease, not determining where it came from.

WHO spokesman Fadela Chaib told reporters that “at some time we will do further investigation, but it’s not a priority right now.”

The U.N.’s spokeswoman in Geneva, Corinne Momal-Vanian, described the suspicion that Nepalese troops were to blame for the outbreak as “misinformation.”

The cholera backlash plays upon some Haitians’ long-standing resentment of the 12,000-member U.N. military mission, which has been the dominant security force in Haiti since 2004. It is also rooted both in fear of a disease previously unknown to Haiti and internationally shared suspicion that the U.N. base could have been a source of the infection.

The country’s Health Ministry said Tuesday that the official death toll had passed 1,000, hitting 1,034 as of Sunday. Figures are released following two days of review.

Aid workers say official figures may understate the epidemic. While the Health Ministry says more than 16,700 people have been hospitalized nationwide, Doctors Without Borders reports that its clinics alone have treated more than 12,000.

Cholera had never been documented in Haiti before it broke out about three weeks ago.

Suspicions quickly surrounded a Nepalese base located on the Artibonite River system, where the outbreak started. The soldiers arrived there in October after outbreaks in their home country and about a week before Haiti’s epidemic was discovered.

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