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A grenade exploded Thursday near the seaport, killing at least three Haitians and injuring at least 18 others.

The explosion was about a mile from city hall, where Mayor Evans Paul, in hiding for much of the three years since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown, had just been welcomed by thousands as he arrived Thursday.Foreign diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador William Swing, gathered at the building in Port-au-Prince's main square to welcome Paul, an Aristide supporter who last visited the building in September 1993. During that visit, pro-military gunmen fired on his supporters, killing as many as eight.

"Last year at this time, we were dancing on blood. We have joy in our hearts today," said Oba Nolus, a pro-Aristide activist. "Evans Paul was able to drive to city hall, and we are here finally able to express our feelings."

U.S. troops were outside the building, which was ringed by barbed wire.

The grenade exploded in front of a line of demonstrators marching from city hall toward the Cite Soleil district of Port-au-Prince.

"Are we never going to stop suffering?" said a 26-year-old woman who called herself Jesula.

Paul's return marked the latest step toward the restoration of elected rule in Haiti. The newspaper Liberte appeared on the streets for the first time since it closed last month after receiving death threats.

The Creole-language newspaper was the most influential in Haiti, serving as a voice of the country's disenfranchised.

The capital was braced for protests to mark the third anniversary of the coup that overthrew Aris-tide. Army leader Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras said he expected trouble, and U.S. Army helicopters hovered over city hall to broadcast messages of calm.

The rallies are expected to continue Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Early Thursday, hundreds began filling the pews of the St. Michel Church in Port-au-Prince. The day traditionally honors a patron saint, St. Michel, but it has taken on political overtones in recent years because it coincides with the day the first shots were fired in Aristide's overthrow.

On Wednesday, lawmakers met for the first time in nine months to consider an amnesty for Haiti's military leaders. The lawmakers planned to work in committees Thursday and said the next session would be next week.

Cedras has demanded an amnesty as the price of a Sept. 18 agreement to give up power. Some expressed deep reservations about absolving soldiers who overthrew Aristide and are blamed for thousands of deaths since then.

At least six amnesty proposals have been prepared. There was no indication when lawmakers would reach agreement. The session Wednesday was held behind a shield of barbed wire and heavily armed U.S. soldiers for protection against his still-powerful enemies.

In a sign of the continuing power of anti-Aristide forces, a march by his supporters ended in a blaze of automatic gunfire by pro-army militiamen just blocks from parliament. One passer-by was critically wounded.

"I see the specter of civil war in this country now," Cedras said in a CNN interview. "People in this country are very scared."