Haitians Celebrate Carnival of Rebirth

Taking a break from growing poverty and political uncertainty, hundreds of thousands of Haitians sang, danced and drank away their troubles at carnival celebrations with the wishful theme of rebirth.

Revelers in flowing purple and white robes cracked bullwhips amid the crowds Monday night as part of a ritual meant to chase away evil spirits. Some people paraded about with painted faces, capes and feathered headdresses.

The three-day carnival that ends Tuesday is traditionally a time of all-night parties and escape from daily life. But increasing poverty has put a damper on the celebrations.

"I really want to go, but I don't have bus fare. If I did, I would have nothing left over for food," said Ketly Pierre, an 18-year-old who lives outside the downtown capital where bands ride on floats.

Poverty has worsened in recent months as fuel and food prices have shot up and the currency has fallen.

No violence was reported in the celebrations, but about 140 people were slightly injured amid pushing and shoving in the crowds, government broadcaster Television Nationale reported.

Throngs followed a score of bands playing dance, rap and Vodou-style "roots" music on floats that streamed past the National Palace into Champs de Mars plaza.

More than 1 million Haitians were expected to participate in the all-night parties.

"Renaissance in Haiti is possible," President Jean-Bertrand Aristide declared at the National Palace on Sunday. He hoped that "the crisis will have ended" by next year when Haiti celebrates 200 years of independence and that "the country will move twice as quickly on the road to economic renaissance."