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Mar 21, 8:03 PM EDT

Haiti police dispute there was attempt on Aristide's life


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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Haitian police on Tuesday rejected claims by ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's lawyers and associates that the twice-elected, twice-ousted former leader was the target of an assassination attempt.

Shots were fired at the former president's motorcade Monday as it passed through an intersection in downtown Port-au-Prince. Aristide ally Yvon Feuille and lawyers have described the incident as an "assassination attempt" and allege the shooters were police.

But in an interview with The Associated Press, Deputy Commissioner Jean Alix Pierre-Louis said Tuesday that the chaos was caused by partisans of two political factions who hurled rocks and fired guns when Aristide's motorcade passed by following his testimony at a court hearing.

A cellphone video made public by Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas political movement doesn't capture the full incident, but shows rocks raining down on police officers, who take cover behind cars. At least two officers are clearly seen firing their weapons toward the opposite side of the intersection.

Police Inspector Prenel Duval said that officers with the Motorized Intervention Brigade fired live rounds, but he asserted the intention was to disperse people. He said there was considerable panic among the crowd and "a lot of shooting from different directions." He acknowledged that the officers with the unit do not have training to deal with crowds.

The officers appeared to be taken by surprise by the confrontation between roughly 20 partisans of President Jovenel Moise's Tet Kale party and a much larger crowd of Lavalas faithful surrounding Aristide's motorcade.

Two people standing in front of Aristide's car were wounded during the violence, including a security guard who was shot in the wrist. Investigators say it is not clear who shot them.

"I can assure you the guys traveling in that motorcade had guns. They had more guns than we did," said Duval.

The incident is under investigation, Pierre-Louis said at his office a few blocks from the intersection where the violence took place. But he flatly rejected the assertion that Aristide was the target of an "assassination attempt."

"That is nonsense. It was nothing like what they are saying," Pierre-Louis said.

Aristide's U.S. lawyer, Ira Kurzban, has said the shots were "fired by uniformed police directly at the vehicle in which President Aristide was a passenger." 

The incident occurred after Aristide appeared as a witness in a court hearing involving an associate who is facing a money laundering probe.

Although he hasn't been in power since 2004, Aristide remains a highly divisive figure in Haiti, popular with some and reviled by others.

He emerged as a leading voice for Haiti's poor and became the troubled country's first democratically elected president in 1990, despite opposition from the army, Haiti's elite and the United States following the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship.

Aristide was toppled twice from power, his second term ending amid a violent rebellion and allegations of corruption. He spent seven years in exile in South Africa.

The former Roman Catholic priest insisted he wouldn't get involved in politics upon his return to Haiti in 2011. But he actively campaigned for Maryse Narcisse, the Lavalas presidential candidate who finished fourth in a presidential election redo in November. Moise won in the first round with over 50 percent of the votes.

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David McFadden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dmcfadd

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