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Rene Preval, the Haitian president, has appealed for calm after days of violent protests over rising food prices that have left five people dead.

For the second day in a row, United Nations soldiers pushed back demonstrators trying to reach the presidential palace, Haitian radio said.

Preval said on Wednesday that the cost of food was a global phenomenon but that "the solution is not going around destroying stores."

"I have ordered the Haitian police and UN soldiers to put an end to the looting," Preval said.

Protesters, who are angry over rising food prices in the hemisphere's poorest country, have been demanding the resignation of Preval, who was elected in 2006.

The US also said it had suspended the operations of its embassy in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, as violence continued.

Violence continues

Police and UN peacekeepers patrolled in pickup trucks but were unable to control outbreaks of violence.

Protesters continued to set tyres ablaze in Port-au-Prince, and gunfire was heard throughout the city's Petionville area, where many diplomats and foreigners live.

Several people were injured by bullets and rocks in the capital, including a Haitian police officer, Fred Blaise, a UN police spokesman said.

About 40 have been wounded since the unrest erupted on Thursday.

Radio stations also reported the looting of a government rice warehouse outside Port-au-Prince and the office of Petionville's mayor.

Protests were also reported on Wednesday in two northern towns, St Marc and Cap-Haitien.

"You haven't seen nothing yet," Jeanti Mathieu, a 22-year-old, said as he helped build a street barricade made of wrecked cars, concrete blocks and debris.

Poverty rife

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, appealed for calm and said he "urges all demonstrators to refrain from any further acts of violence," his press office said in a statement.

He also condemned attacks against the 10,000-strong UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) as well as against the Haitian government and private property.

The Haitian leader said his government could not afford to bow to demands that it lift all taxes on food imports.

Preval said money was too sorely needed for road building and other projects.

Food prices, which have risen 40 per cent on average globally since mid-2007, are causing unrest around the world.

They pose particular problems in Haiti, where most people live on less than $2 a day.

"I have five kids and I provide food if I can. Some days it's bread and sugar," said Paul Fleury, a 53-year-old who has been unemployed for a decade.


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