Secretary of state on visit because of rise in violence
Wednesday, December 1, 2004 Posted: 10:58 PM EST (0358 GMT)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNN) -- Gunshots were exchanged Wednesday outside Haiti's presidential palace in Port-au-Prince as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell held meetings there, U.S. State Department officials said.
Neither Powell nor anyone in his entourage was injured, State Department officials said.
The gunfire erupted shortly after Powell entered the palace for a meeting with interim President Boniface Alexandre and other Haitian officials. It was unclear whether the shooting was directed at the palace.
A palace security officer said shots were fired from a car passing outside around 10:50 a.m. ET and that United Nations security forces ringing the palace returned fire.
Several U.N. armored vehicles soon arrived to patrol the road in front of the palace.
Hours later, Powell said the solution to violence in the Caribbean nation is the continued rapid buildup of U.N. troops.
"They have to forcefully take on these armed individuals of the kind who were firing this morning," Powell told reporters at a news conference with Haitian Prime Minister Gerald Latortue at the palace.
Powell pledged continued aid to Haiti for hurricane recovery and economic development and said he is confident the country can move toward elections next year.
With his visit coming on World AIDS Day, Powell also met with young Haitians who both give and receive HIV and AIDS treatment.
A State Department official said Powell's meetings were shifted to new locations because of the shooting incident, but his schedule was unchanged.
Powell went to Haiti on the one-day trip because of a rise in violence there.
Without offering evidence, a senior State Department official said the gunfire was believed to have come from supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas Family Party, which still enjoys popularity among the poor majority.
Aristide's lawyer, Ira Kurzban, rejected that contention.
"They're lying, just as they've lied about their kidnapping of President Aristide," Kurzban said in a telephone interview from his office in Miami.
U.S. and French soldiers escorted the elected president from Haiti to the Central African Republic on February 29.
Since that time, the former Roman Catholic priest has maintained that he was ousted by a U.S.-orchestrated coup. State Department officials said Aristide fled voluntarily as rebel forces were closing in on his palace.
Aristide and his wife are now in South Africa.
"The background is that they're massacring Lavalas supporters on a daily basis now in most of the Port-au-Prince port areas. People are afraid to come out of their homes," Kurzban said.
Anti-Lavalas forces, including U.S. officials, he said, "are attempting to make people who support democracy and who are supporters of Lavalas the scapegoats for their failed Iraq-type policy in Haiti.
"What's happening in Haiti is what's happening in Iraq: It's just total chaos, except there are no U.S. troops on the ground," Kurzban said.
Kurzban rejected Powell's call for more U.N. troops and called instead for new elections and the return of Aristide.