Haitians protest in front of a jeep carrying Brazilian U.N. peacekeepers near the U.N.'s main base in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, yesterday. - REUTERS
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP):
HAITIAN POLITICIANS and business leaders rallied yesterday in front of United Nations headquarters to press peacekeepers to bring an end to violence jeopardising next month's elections.
Hundreds gathered in front of U.N. mission headquarters, just one week after a general strike was called to protest a wave of kidnappings that was terrifying people and overshadowing efforts to restore democracy.
"Down with kidnapping!" demonstrators shouted while waving placards that read, "Protection for everyone" and "We want peace."
Hundreds of Haitians have been kidnapped in a surge of pre-election violence. International election workers and journalists have also been taken hostage by gangs and hidden in the sprawling slums of the capital, while ransom payments were negotiated.
"We urge the U.N. mission to work more efficiently with the Haitian police so that the elections can be held in peace," said rally organiser Andy Apaid.
TERRORIST ACTIVITY WITH POLITICAL GOALS
"The pre-election violence is a terrorist activity, with political goals," said Apaid, also a leader of the 184 Group, a coalition of civil organisations that helped oust former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.
Elections, postponed four times, were set for February 7.
In an open letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the group accused the U.N. peacekeeping contingent of allowing kidnappers to freely exit and enter Cité Soleil - a teeming slum where hundreds of thousands of people live in squalor between the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the sea.
"I'm tired of burying my friends," said presidential candidate Charles Henry Baker, who said a friend of his was recently killed near a U.N. armoured vehicle.
With an average eight to 10 kidnappings a day in the capital, Haiti has one of the highest per capita kidnapping rates in the Americas, ahead of Colombia and Mexico.