PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Thousands of critics of Haiti's President Michel Martelly staged protest marches Monday that turned violent as people threw rocks and shots were fired in the air.
It appeared at least one person was shot. An Associated Press reporter heard several gunshots, and then a crowd loaded a man onto a motorcycle and took him to an ambulance. The ambulance driver said the man was shot in the back. His condition wasn't immediately clear.
The marches were among the biggest demonstrations against Martelly since he took office in 2011, and the crowd in the capital swelled as protesters passed each neighborhood. Their complaints ranged from the cost of living to high levels of corruption.
Protesters lit fiery barricades of discarded tires on one of the busiest streets as they called for Martelly's departure from office. Demonstrators also smashed car windows and tore down posters and billboards bearing the leader's face and burned those too. Pro-Martelly groups held separate marches, and the two sides took turns throwing rocks at each other as riot police dispensed canisters of tear gas.
"We are moving forward to removing him from power and won't stop until he leaves," said demonstrator Jean Daniel.
Martelly, his prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, and the first lady attended a church ceremony in the northern city of Cap-Haitien, the site of another, smaller protest Monday, a national holiday that commemorates Haiti's final battle before it secured independence from France in 1804.
In a speech that followed at a historic site where the fight apparently took place, Martelly appealed for unity. "If we didn't put our heads together, we wouldn't have had the Battle of Vertieres," he said. "If we didn't have our heads together, we wouldn't have a Haitian state."
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti on Saturday urged Martelly and opposition parties to sort out their differences in a peaceful manner. The world body also dispatched armed troops for the demonstration to join riot police with shields and helmets.
The mounting tension between Martelly and his opponents stems in part from the government's failure to hold legislative and local elections that are two years overdue. The U.N., U.S. and others have been overly supportive of the Martelly administration but relations seemed to be straining in recent months because of the delayed vote. The election was supposed to have been held before year's end, but it most likely won't happen until next year.
"The international community should take notes," said Moise Jean-Charles, a senator and vocal critic of the government. "The people are rising for a change. Martelly and Lamothe aren't doing anything for the country but stealing money."