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Soldiers Fire into Haitian Protesters; Avril May Quit

March 10, 1990

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Soldiers fired on student demonstrators Friday and wounded at least three, radio accounts and witnesses said, and reports surfaced that negotiations had begun for Haiti’s military ruler to resign.

State TV Friday night said Avril had met with Army and church leaders to negotiate peace but had no intention of leaving power unless he is defeated in elections - ’not through disorder.″

The protest by about 250 students came on the fourth day of anti-government protests over the army’s killing of an 11-year-old girl.

Political sources said opposition parties were negotiating with Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril and the army over his possible resignation as leader of this impoverished Caribbean nation. ″Finally, after four years of struggle, there is a real possibility to realize the demands of Feb. 7, 1986″ - the date dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier fled into exile after a popular uprising, said Jean-Claude Bajeux, a prominent political and human rights activist.

A U.S. Embassy diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said the United States was not involved in the talks.

″We are keeping in touch with them but we are in no way involved with negotiations. We are not putting together a deal. It is up to Haitians to decide if there’s to be a change in government,″ the diplomat said.

A coalition of 11 opposition parties issued a statement Friday calling on Haitians to stage ″an unlimited total paralysis of the country″ if Avril does not step down by Monday.

They said they proposed that Supreme Court Vice President Gabriel Volcy act as provisional leader until elections are held. The parties have repeatedly said they want Avril replaced for now with a Supreme Court judge.

Avril, who came to power in a soldiers’ revolt in September 1988, has said he would be willing to step down if most Haitians wanted him to, although he predicted that would lead to ″revolution and chaos.″

But a high-ranking government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Friday that Avril has no intention of resigning soon.

″Avril is ready to make concessions, but a hasty departure is out of the question,″ he said.

Late Friday, a commentator on state National Television said, ″The president has said he would leave if the will of the people demand it, but the people’s will can only be expressed through elections and not through disorder.

″The president has taken all the measures necessary to provide for free elections,″ the commentator said on the 10 p.m. news, adding that Avril has met with members of the Army high command and the Roman Catholic and Protestant church to negotiate peace.

Demonstrations broke out Friday in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince and continued until sundown. Protesters put up barricades of burning tires and soldiers fired in the air to disperse crowds.

The capital was deserted Friday night but gunfire could be heard downtown.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said the U.S. Embassy in Port-Au-Prince received an unconfirmed report that one of those injured Friday was a U.S. citizen.

Radio Haiti Inter, an independent station, said at least three people were wounded in Friday’s shooting at a state university campus a half-mile from the National Palace.

Earlier Friday, hundreds of protesters, some hurling rocks, blocked main roads in Port-au-Prince, bringing the capital of 1 million to a near- standstill with schools, stores and government offices closed.

Heavily armed soldiers milled around the entrance of the white National Palace. Two anti-aircraft guns stood on the front lawn, facing Champ de Mars Plaza.

On John Brown Avenue, a main thoroughfare, soldiers and police were seen climbing out of truck and clubbing youths standing by a burning tire barricade.

Radio stations said demonstrations also occurred Friday in the northern port of Cap-Haitien, where soldiers fired tear gas to scatter about 4,000 protesters, and in the western port of Gonaives, where 500 students marched peacefully wearing black armbands.

Three people were killed Thursday, including a soldier beaten to death by a mob, and at least 15 injured in countrywide demonstrations, according to reports from radio stations, witnesses and a doctor at the state hospital in Port-au-Prince.

The protests were triggered by the killing Monday of schoolgirl Rosaline Vaval by a soldier in a passing car in Petit Goave, about 30 miles west of the capital. Similar protests over the killing of three high school students in 1985 led to Duvalier’s downfall in 1986.

Shooting broke out in Port-au-Prince Friday after soldiers and police began a sweep of the city, dispersing crowds and arresting protesters, radio stations said.

Jerry Timmins, a reporter for the British Broadcasting Corp., said he saw soldiers pull up in a truck and fire on about 250 protesters at the state university’s Human Sciences College.

He said some soldiers fired into the air but others fired at body level. The soldiers beat at least a dozen students, although their demonstration had been peaceful, Timmins said.

Timmins said a soldier fired at him, narrowly missing his head.

On Thursday, about 3,000 people marched through Port-au-Prince in a symbolic funeral for Miss Vaval.

About 10,000 people attended her burial Thursday in Petit Goave. That night, a mob rampaged through the town, burning an army outpost, ransacking a government building and the mayor’s house, reported Radio Lumiere, a Protestant station.

Mobs also were reported Thursday night in Gonaives, a resident said.

Ms. Tutwiler said that while the airport was reported open, some airlines have temporarily suspended service to Haiti, which occupies the western third of Hispaniola island.

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