Cholera protests spread to capital


Clouds of choking irritants blew into shelters of thousands made homeless by the Haiti earthquake (AP)

Anti-United Nations violence has spread to Haiti’s capital, Port au Prince, as protesters blocked roads and attacked foreigners’ cars amid suspicions that peacekeepers introduced a cholera epidemic which has killed more than 1,100 people.

The unrest followed three days of similar violence in northern Haiti.

The protests – which the UN has characterised as political – come a little more than a week before national elections. Some demonstrators threw rocks at an office of President Rene Preval’s Unity party and tore down campaign posters.

But the protests are fuelled by suspicions, shared by some US disease experts, that a contingent of Nepalese soldiers brought cholera with them to Haiti and spread the disease from their rural base into the Artibonite River system, where the initial outbreak was centred.

The disease is new to Haiti and was not expected to strike this year despite rampant bad sanitation and poor access to drinking water.

The 12,000-member UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti, or Minustah, which has been the dominant security force in Haiti for six years, denies responsibility for the epidemic.

Standing before the thick black smoke of blazing tyres, protesters shouted: “We say no to Minustah and no to cholera,” and carried signs reading “Minustah and cholera are twins”. The windows of several cars belonging to the UN and humanitarian groups were broken.

Haitian police fired tear gas at the protesters on the central Champ de Mars plaza, and clouds of choking irritants blew into nearby tent shelters of thousands made homeless by the January 12 earthquake. “I survived the quake but the police are going to kill me with gas,” Marie Paul Moses said as she fled the white cloud.

Aid workers, including UN humanitarian agencies which are structurally separate from the peacekeeping force, called for calm, saying the violence was hampering efforts to treat the tens of thousands of people stricken with cholera.

The disease is spread by contaminated faecal matter. Health experts say it can be easily treated with rehydration or prevented outright by ensuring good sanitation and getting people to drink only purified water.