Three Haitian journalists assaulted by bodyguards of interim president

A rare public appearance by Haiti's interim president turned violent Monday when his bodyguards, apparently Americans contracted by the U.S. State Department, beat up several journalists at the country's central courthouse, the journalists said.

At least two Haitian journalists were assaulted by security contractors and police as they tried to enter the Supreme Court to cover an appearance by interim President Boniface Alexandre, who was presiding over a ceremony for the yearly reopening of the courts after the summer holidays.

A reporter for independent Radio Metropole, Jean Wilkens Merone, said he was cursed at and beaten inside the courthouse by another guard. He said at least one other journalist also was struck.

The head of presidential security, Vladimir Champagne, said the journalists who were beaten had arrived late for the ceremony and tried to force their way through security.

Champagne said he did not see the beatings because he was inside the courthouse next to Alexandre at the time. He said the building was very crowded during the ceremony, but more than a dozen journalists were allowed in without any problems.

Champagne said the interim president's security was handled by DynCorp International of Irving, Texas, under a contract organized by the State Department.

Because of persistent insecurity in the capital, Alexandre _ who became interim president after Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in February 2004 _ rarely leaves the presidential compound without tight security.

"We have safety measures that reflect the situation in the country," Champagne said. "We have to find a way for the president to be safe while the press remains free to report on him.", AP reported.

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