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HAITIANS GATHER AT PRIEST'S FUNERAL TO MOURN `VICTIM OF STATE TERRORISM'

Fellow clerics and other pro-democracy activists came out into the open briefly Friday to bury "one more victim of state terrorism" - the first priest slain since soldiers seized power in 1991.

A truckload of armed soldiers sat outside on the street as several thousand Haitians sang and prayed for the Rev. Jean-Marie Vincent, the first priest ever assassinated in Haiti.Worshipers had to walk right by the spot where Vincent was shot Sunday night to enter the Montfortain Fathers' residence for the early morning funeral in the compound's large yard.

On the blood-stained street outside the gate lay a bouquet of flowers and about a dozen small white candles, burnt almost to the ground.

The head of Vincent's order, the Rev. Quesnel Alphonse, blamed coup leaders and the army-supported provisional government for the killing.

"They have never gone so far with their work of destruction," Alphonse declared angrily in his eulogy. "He is one more victim of state terrorism."

To his slain colleague, he added: "You were in the path of the bloodthirsty devil."

The de facto government has denied involvement in the assassination of the 49-year-old priest, who had devoted his life to helping Haiti's peasants.

Vincent was one of several Roman Catholic priests who nurtured the social consciousness of the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who in 1990 became Haiti's first democratically elected president. Aristide was overthrown in a September 1991 military coup.

Vincent suffered head wounds saving Aristide's life in August 1987, when he dove across him to protect him from a band of thugs with machetes.

The solemn funeral was punctuated by worshipers screaming and wailing in grief.

"No, Jesus! Jesus, no!" shrieked one woman. Another fell prostrate with grief beside the casket.

Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul, himself a target of death threats, came out of hiding for the funeral.

"The unity of the church is necessary - both the hierarchy and the grass-roots," Paul told The Associated Press afterward. "The unity of this church is indispensable to accompany this people in its struggle."

Robert Malval, the caretaker prime minister appointed by Aristide but who remains powerless, attended the funeral. He made no public statement.