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Violence, cholera, rumors taking a toll in Haiti

MEXICO CITY — Medical authorities in Haiti defended their decision Tuesday not to focus on finding the origins of a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people and stoked violent demonstrations against United Nations peacekeepers, whom many people blame for introducing the disease.

Protests that began late Monday in Cap Haitien and other cities and carried on into Tuesday left two people dead as demonstrators directed their ire at the peacekeepers, a 12,000-strong, multinational force that arrived in Haiti in 2004 in response to political conflict.

A spokesman for the U.N. force said the protesters were using the cholera epidemic as an excuse to push the troops out and destabilize the country before the Nov. 28 presidential election.

"These are not genuine demonstrations," said the spokesman, Vincenzo Pugliese. "They are using spoilers paid to create chaos." U.N. health workers said the demonstrations were hampering the treatment of victims in Cap Haitien.

Some Haitians see the peacekeepers as occupiers while others support them out of concern that the police can't maintain order.

Tensions around the force have increased after health officials identified the cholera strain as coming from South Asia and found that the bacteria, which live in feces, had contaminated a river where Nepalese troops had arrived in October shortly before the outbreak began.

Reporters in Haiti found signs of poor sanitation at the camp, but the U.N. mission has steadfastly denied that the troops are to blame and has said repeated tests have failed to link the cholera to them.

But while the testing has not linked the disease to the troops, the World Health Organization said, it could not be ruled out.

Health officials in the Dominican Republic said Tuesday they had found the first confirmed case of cholera, in a Haitian citizen who recently returned from his home country, the Associated Press reported.

Violence, cholera, rumors taking a toll in Haiti 11/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 10:23pm]

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