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Aristide militants shoot at Haiti school

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide shot at a school run by Haiti's opposition leader and lobbed fire bombs at an opposition office, raising the stakes in a standoff between the government and its opponents.

At least four people were reported wounded in Tuesday's violence, which opposition leader Gerard Gourgue accused the government of orchestrating in a quest to return Haiti to dictatorship.

"A climate of violence and terror has spread panic throughout the population," Gourgue, leader of the 15-party opposition alliance called Convergence, said in a statement Tuesday night.

Earlier, he pleaded for security from inside the barricaded school where he was taking cover with his family and about 50 students.

"We are wide open," he said by telephone. "We have no police protection."

After more than an hour, police arrived and fired tear gas, forcing the mob of Aristide supporters to disperse.

In other violence, about 200 of the president's followers opened fire on an opposition party office and threw fire bombs at the building, sparking a small fire.

An opposition leader was shot in the chest there, and three Aristide supporters were wounded — one in the foot and the other in the hand — when security guards shot at a mob that tried to storm the building.

The attackers have been demanding the arrest of Gourgue, who claims the Aristide administration won last year's legislative and presidential elections through fraud. Convergence named Gourgue president of an "alternative government."

"We're going to keep on doing this, until the government arrests Gerard Gourgue," said Eugene Bedeshein, 25, at a flaming tire barricade he helped build in downtown Port-au-Prince.

Meanwhile, two of Aristide's Cabinet ministers threatened to arrest Gourgue for "usurping the title of president," which they said was a violation of the law.

Asked if the government was sponsoring the attacks, spokesman Mario Dupuy said, "We are waiting for the police report to be made before making statements, but we condemn violence in whatever shape or form."

Gourgue, a lawyer and human rights activist, was favored to win 1987 elections that the army halted in a bloodbath.

Aristide won Haiti's first democratic elections in 1989. He was ousted months later by the military and returned in 1994 by a U.S. invasion. He stepped down reluctantly in 1996 because the constitution bars consecutive terms of office.

Last year, Aristide's party won an 80 percent majority in the parliament. The Organization of American States said 10 Senate seats won by Aristide's party should have gone to a second round, and millions in international aid have been put on hold over the results.

Aristide was the only viable presidential candidate in November elections boycotted by the opposition.