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#3036: Fire ravages Haiti market after gang clash (fwd)


WIRE:03/28/2000 18:23:00 ET 
Fire ravages Haiti market after gang
PORT-AU-PRINCE, (Reuters) -Haitians picked through mounds of burnt peas,
piles of peppers and thousands of smoldering onions Tuesday after a
gang-related fire ravaged the capital's  largest open  market.An area of
the Croix-des-Bossales seaside market called Fort Touron,equivalent to a
square city block, was burned to the  ground in firesset Monday and
Tuesday by a gang that professes loyalty to former President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide after the killing of one of its leaders by a
rival gang member from Fort  Touron, witnesses told Reuters."Yesterday
one area burned and my stuff was okay,but they  came back at 4 a.m. and
burned the rest,"said Joseph Pierre  who lost 1,075 sacks of onions
stored in his depot. A sack of  onions sold at about   $20, he said. 
Protests and violence have been escalating in Haiti in  recent weeks as
the impoverished Caribbean nation struggles to  hold its first national
elections in nearly three years.Nearly a decade after electing its first
freely chosen  president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti is still trying
to  build its tenuous democracy following years of dictatorships and 
military rule.At the market, hundreds of cement block storage depots,
tiny  stores and small homes were burned down. Damage was estimated in 
the hundreds of thousands of dollars. A fire truck worked Tuesday to put
out scattered fires as  hundreds of people wandered in shock in the
smoke-filled air  among scorched papayas and burnt coconut husks.
Businesses were shut in the La Saline area and traffic was  light in the
streets of the normally congested capital.  Protesters set tires on fire
in the streets early Tuesday but  were chased away by police. The slain
gang leader, Jean Samedi, a former soldier,was  killed in a machete
attack Monday, according to   witnesses. He  was among pro-Aristide
demonstrators who set up barricades of  flaming tires in the capital
Monday to protest the rising cost  of living and to call for general
elections at year's end.       "They were protesting against high
prices, but now things  are going to become more expensive because  all
the depots were  burned," said Marckson Lorant, 19, who sold bottles for
a living and lost his entire
stock, eight huge sacks full of  bottles, in the fire. On Monday
protesters smashed dozens of car windows and  burned tires in several
downtown Port-au-Prince areas. They  demanded that legislative         
elections, originally scheduled for  March 19 and postponed indefinitely
by President Rene Preval, be held with presidential elections at the end
of the year.              
International pressure has been mounting on Haiti to hold  legislative
elections quickly so a new parliament  can be seated.  Preval dissolved
parliament in January 1999 to end a political  stalemate and has been
ruling by decree ever since.The elections have been postponed three
times. In early  March, elections officials set an April 9 date for    
the vote but  Preval said it was done improperly and refused to approve
it. Opposition politicians claim Aristide and Preval are trying  to
delay the legislative and municipal elections until the end  of the year
so they can be held in conjunction with presidential  elections.       
Aristide, a former populist priest who was ousted in a military coup in
1991 and returned to power by a  U.S.-led  intervention force in 1994,
is Haiti's most popular politician  and is widely expected to win the  
presidency. If the two elections were held together, opponents say      
members of Aristide's Lavalas Family could attempt to win  control of
parliament on the coattails of their