Haitians continue riots over high cost of food

Updated: 2008-04-10 15:54

BEIJING -- Gunfire rattled through upscale neighborhoods and roads were blocked Wednesday in the mountains above Port-au-Prince as protests and looting over soaring food prices continued in the Haitian capital.

National television said President Rene Preval, who has made no public statements since the unrest began last week, would address the nation in a speech that could determine the course of the demonstrations — and of his government.

"I believe if President Preval talks to the people about the high cost of living, people will listen to the president and go home," said Sen. Joseph Lambert, a former senate president and a member of Preval's party. "If not, if there is an attempt at a coup d'etat to remove the president, things will get worse."

Rioters angry over sharply rising food prices in the hemisphere's poorest country have been demanding the resignation of Preval, who was elected in 2006. They tried to break through the gates of the presidential palace on Tuesday before UN peacekeepers chased them away with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Police on Wednesday cleared away torched cars and other debris left by two days of looting and rioting. Helicopters circled amid black smoke rising from intersections as protesters continued to set tires ablaze, and gunfire was reported in Petionville, where many diplomats and foreigners live.

Several people have been injured by bullets and rocks in the capital, including a Haitian police officer, UN police spokesman Fred Blaise said. Five people have been killed in food riots in the southern city of Les Cayes, where protesters tried to burn down the UN compound last week.

Food prices, which have risen 40 percent on average globally since mid-2007, are causing unrest around the world. But they pose a particular threat to democracy in Haiti, where most people live on less than US$2 a day.

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