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Haiti leader's pleafails to stem chaos

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A desperate appeal from the president Wednesday failed to restore order to Haiti's shattered capital, and bands of looters sacked stores, warehouses and government offices.

Gunfire rang out from the wealthy suburbs to the starving slums below as 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers were unable to halt a frenzy of looting and violence that has grown out of protests over rising food prices.

Many of the protesters are demanding the resignation of the U.S.-backed president, Rene Preval. U.N. peacekeepers had to fire rubber bullets and tear gas on Tuesday to drive away a mob that tried to storm his palace.

Preval delivered his first public comments Wednesday, nearly a week into the protests. He urged legislators to cut taxes on imported food and appealed to the rioters to go home.

"The solution is not to go around destroying stores," he said.

Gunfire rang out around the palace after the speech, as peacekeepers tried to drive away looters.

The streets remained in the control of bands of young men carrying sticks and rocks, who set up roadblocks of burning tires and stopped passing cars. Businesses were closed and most people locked themselves indoors, as mobs looted stores, warehouses and offices.

Haiti is particularly affected by food prices, which have risen 40 percent on average globally since mid 2007. With 80 percent of its population struggling to survive on less than $2 a day, rising prices pose a real threat to its fragile democracy.

Haiti leader's pleafails to stem chaos 04/09/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 10:34pm]
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