Violent cholera protests spread to Haiti's capital

Anger stems from suspicions that Nepalese UN peacekeepers brought disease with them to earthquake-ravaged nation.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
November 19, 2010 20:38
2 minute read.
demonstrator carries a sign reading "Minusta and C

Haiti Cholera Protest 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitians angry over the cholera epidemic ignored exhortations from health workers to stop violence that is disrupting treatment efforts, and authorities feared more unrest in the capital Friday.

Violence spread into Port-au-Prince for the first time Thursday after three days of upheaval in the country's north. Protesters threw rocks at UN peacekeepers, attacked foreigners' cars, blocked roads with burning tires, and toppled light poles.

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The upheaval over a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 1,100 people comes just days before national elections planned for Nov. 28. UN officials argue that the violence is being encouraged by forces that want to disrupt the ballot, and some demonstrators Thursday threw rocks at an office of President Rene Preval's Unity party and tore down campaign posters.

But the anger is fueled by suspicions that a contingent of Nepalese soldiers brought cholera with them to Haiti and spread the disease from their rural base into the Artibonite River system, where the initial outbreak was centered last month. It is a suspicion shared by some prominent global health experts.

Cholera had not been recorded before in Haiti despite rampant bad sanitation and poor access to drinking water, problems that cause outbreaks of the disease in other parts of the world. Cholera is endemic to Nepal and there was an upsurge there before the Nepalese troops came to Haiti.

Experts have not pinpointed the origin of Haiti's epidemic, however, and the 12,000-member UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH, denies responsibility.

UN peacekeepers have been the dominant security force in Haiti for six years, and there was resentment against them even before the cholera outbreak.

Standing before the thick black smoke of blazing tires Thursday, protesters in Port-au-Prince yelled "We say no to MINUSTAH and no to cholera." Some carried signs reading "MINUSTAH and cholera are twins." The windows of several cars belonging to the United Nations and to humanitarian groups were broken.

"It's not only that (the U.N. peacekeepers) have to leave but the cholera victims must get paid (damages)," said Josue Meriliez, one of the demonstrators.

Haitian police fired tear gas at the protesters on the central Champ de Mars plaza, and clouds of choking irritants blew into nearby tent shelters of thousands made homeless by the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Protesters also threw rocks at a motorcade leaving the national palace, which fired warning shots to clear a path. It was not immediately known if President Rene Preval was in the motorcade.


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