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Religious discord accompanies aid in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Angry crowds in a seaside slum attacked a group of Voodoo practitioners Tuesday, pelting them with rocks and halting a ceremony meant to honor victims of last month 's deadly earthquake.

Voodooists gathered in Cite Soleil, where thousands of quake survivors live in tents and depend on food aid. Praying and singing, the group was trying to conjure spirits to guide lost souls when a crowd of evangelicals started shouting. Some threw rocks while others urinated on Voodoo symbols. When police left, the crowd destroyed the altars and Voodoo offerings of food and rum.

"We were here preparing for prayer when these others came and took over," said Sante Joseph, an evangelical worshipper in Cite Soleil, near the capital's port, who joined the angry crowd in a concrete outdoor civic center.

Tensions have been running high since the Jan. 12 earthquake killed an estimated 200,000 people and left more than 1 million homeless. More than 150 machete-wielding men attacked a World Food Program convoy Monday on the road between Haiti's second-largest city of Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince. There were no injuries, but Chilean troops could not prevent the men from stealing the food, U.N. spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux said.

Religious tension has also increased: Baptists, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientologists, Mormons and other missionaries have flocked to Haiti in droves since the earthquake to feed the homeless, treat the injured and jockey for souls. Some Voodoo practitioners have said they've converted to Christianity for fear they will lose out on aid or a belief that the earthquake was a warning from God.

"Much of this has to do with the aid coming in," said Max Beauvoir, a Voodoo priest and head of a Voodoo association. "Many missionaries oppose Voodoo. I hope this does not start a war of religions, because many of our practitioners are being harassed now unlike any other time that I remember."

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