CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti – Militant followers of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide set up blazing barricades Tuesday to hold back a rebel uprising that has spread to eleven towns and killed at least 42 people. U.N. aid workers meanwhile warned of a looming food crisis.
Gunfire crackled across Haiti's second-largest city of Cap-Haitien (search) overnight, and Aristide partisans reportedly burned a restaurant and several lottery stalls owned by rebel supporters. Unidentified assailants lobbed rocks and bottles at passing vehicles.
Officials said police helped by a pro-Aristide militia had managed to fight off rebels in shootouts in Dondon, 12 miles outside Cap-Haitien on Haiti's north coast. Aristide supporters torched houses of nine anti-government activists, Radio Vision 2000 (search) reported.
After sporadic gunbattles on Monday, police also regained control of the important port city of St. Marc (search), 45 miles west of Port-au-Prince (search), and nearby Grand-Goave. At least two men were shot in St. Marc and a third allegedly was shot and killed by Aristide supporters. His headless body was left on a roadside.
In Cap-Haitien, a city of half a million, men in dark glasses manned roadblocks built from overturned vehicles and burning tires set on piles of garbage.
The barricades, some manned by Aristide supporters and others by rebels, were preventing food deliveries to tens of thousands of desperate Haitians, the U.N. World Food Program (search) warned from Geneva.
The blocks also were preventing deliveries of fuel and northern towns were expected to run out of diesel to power electricity generators by the end of Tuesday.
Cars lined up at several gas stations in Cap-Haitien, some of which had already run dry while others were rationing.
Remy Charlot, 44, said Aristide militants gutted his restaurant overnight.
"Because I criticize the government, that's why," he told The Associated Press. "They came inside. They poured gasoline on all my stuff and they burned it."
Rebels have torched numerous police stations and government buildings and property belonging to Aristide officials since the uprising that began Thursday in Haiti's fourth-largest city of Gonaives (search).
The revolt is a dangerous turning point in Haiti's three-year political crisis. A similar one in 1985, which also started in Gonaives, led to the end of the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship.
The Democratic Platform, an opposition coalition made up of political groups, civic leaders, clergy and students, distanced itself from the revolt on Monday though it shares the rebels aim of forcing Aristide to step down.
"The national police alone cannot re-establish order," Prime Minister Yvon Neptune warned Monday in St. Marc. He said the violence was "tied to a coup d'etat."
Haiti has suffered more than 30 coups since its independence in 1804.
With no army and fewer than 5,000 poorly armed police, the government force has been outgunned and outnumbered. Numerous police stations have been torched because they symbolize Aristide's authority and officers are accused of siding with government supporters.
Tension has mounted since Aristide's party won flawed legislative elections in 2000 and international donors blocked millions of dollars in aid. Misery has deepened with most of the nation's 8 million people living without jobs and on less than $1 day despite election promises from Aristide, a former priest who had vowed to bring dignity to the poor.
The United States accused the government of inciting some of the violence. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters Monday that "bands of violent actors, thugs on both sides" are responsible "as well as the government reaction that we think has often sometimes contributed to the violence."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the United Nations "will be stepping up our own involvement fairly soon" but did not elaborate.
Bertrand Ramcharan, the acting U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, deplored "the killings and destruction."
Tolls put together from witnesses, Red Cross officials, rebel leaders and radio reports indicate at least 42 have died, including several policemen.
The rebels include former Aristide supporters, former soldiers who helped oust Aristide in a 1991 coup and civilians frustrated by deepening poverty.
Aristide won Haiti's first democratic election in 1990 and was ousted months later by the army. He was restored in a 1994 U.S. invasion, and disbanded the army three months later.