By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS, April 8 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday strongly deplored violence in Haiti sparked by high food prices but called for emergency aid to relieve hardship in the Caribbean nation.
Five people have been killed in a week of demonstrations in the poorest country in the Americas, four of them during a riot last week in the town of Les Cayes. Protests continued on Tuesday, virtually paralyzing the capital Port-au-Prince.
"The members of the Security Council strongly deplored the violence which took place on 4 April 2008 and expressed their deep regret about the loss of life," said a statement issued after a briefing by U.N. envoy to Haiti Hedi Annabi.
The statement condemned an attack on facilities of the 9,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSTAH in Les Cayes "and stressed the importance of ensuring the security of U.N. personnel."
But the statement also expressed concern at the humanitarian situation in Haiti and encouraged international donors to provide emergency relief.
Annabi told reporters the vast majority of Haiti’s people were seriously affected by a global rise in food prices, as 80 percent of them lived on less than $2 a day.
"A special effort is needed to provide urgent immediate relief, assistance, food aid to the population in Haiti as well as support for the next agricultural season through the provision of fertilizers, seeds," he said.
In his briefing to the council earlier, Annabi said that although the riots had been blamed on food prices, "they also appear to have a political dimension."
"Because of the violence that has occurred in the past, the Haitian public is particularly sensitive to threats of instability," he said. "A firm and visible response is essential -- and can only be achieved through close collaboration between the Haitian authorities and MINUSTAH."
Despite the latest violence, both Annabi and the Security Council said they were encouraged by progress by Haiti’s current government in stabilizing a country with a long history of conflict.
"Council members, I think, all endorsed the fact that ... there was an underlying trend of progress, which is very encouraging, but at the same time it would be wrong to deny that the events of the weekend have been a setback," British envoy Karen Pierce told reporters.
Annabi told the council progress remained "extraordinarily fragile and subject to swift reversal" and called on donors to try to provide Haitians with a "stability dividend" that would bring them an immediate improvement in their lives. (Editing by David Wiessler)