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Protests in Haiti continue; off-duty police officer killed

May 17, 1997

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ An off-duty police officer was shot and killed and stone-throwing demonstrators blocked downtown streets in a fifth day of violence Friday.

Militants protesting the government’s tight economic policy joined students demanding improved school conditions, smashing car windows and erecting street barricades of burning tires. Downtown storekeepers shut their doors.

At least 15 people, including several police officers, have been injured in protests since Monday. The government accused opposition activists of taking advantage of student complaints to create political unrest.

``The students are a minority of the activists, and clearly their violence is not addressing the problems of education. It is politically motivated,″ Education Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis said in an interview Friday.

The main pro-government party, which supports Prime Minister Rosny Smarth and his internationally mandated economic austerity measures, threatened this week to boycott a May 25 runoff election unless officials hold the first round again.

The party claims there was fraud during the initial vote, on April 6, the results of which favored the party of ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which is seeking to dump Smarth and reverse the stringent economic guidelines.

On Thursday night, an unidentified gunman shot and killed off-duty police Officer Alix Cadet in a Port-au-Prince slum. It was unclear if the killing was connected with the protests.

Some of the demonstrators Friday threatened journalists and accused foreigners of seeking to control Haiti through an internationally backed economic austerity plan that has been adopted by the government. One small group smashed the office windows of a human-rights lawyer.

Heavily armed police occasionally patrolled the area. About 450 U.S. soldiers who are in Haiti on a humanitarian mission were stationed away from the scene of the violence at a base on the capital’s outskirts.

Most public schools have been closed since May 5, when four small teachers unions went on strike to demand that the government honor an agreement to improve conditions in overcrowded schools and make up back pay.