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#826: Disrupted meeting stirs political debate in Haiti (fwd)


Disrupted meeting stirs political debate in Haiti 02:53 p.m Oct 29, 1999
Eastern ___________  By Chris Chapman 

 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Oct 29 (Reuters) - The disruption of an election
meeting by rowdy supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
has rung alarm bells over possible turmoil as this poor and politically
fraught Caribbean nation  prepares for elections next March. Any sign of
political violence is unwelcome in a country scarred  by military
dictatorship and repression earlier this decade and  where an
international effort to instill democracy has faced an  uphill
struggle.  The trouble erupted on Sunday when demonstrators chanting
pro-Aristide slogans disrupted a meeting held by the Provisional
Electoral Council (CEP) to launch an education programme to  encourage
Haitians to vote in the March 19 legislative and   municipal elections,
Haiti's first vote in nearly three years.  Witnesses said the
demonstrators called for Aristide to be the next president and shouted
their opposition to the polls. They  also hurled plastic bottles filled
with urine, forcing the meeting to end early.  President Rene Preval,
the U.S. Embassy, the United Nations mission in Haiti and others have
criticised the incident. 
 ``These incidents ... do not augur well for the forthcoming  electoral
campaign, unless something is done to put a stop to this kind of
behaviour,'' the United Nations and Organisation of American States
mission said in a statement. `This outrage should spur all political
figures, in particular the party the demonstrators claimed to belong to,
to assume their  responsibilities,'' the UN/OAS statement said.       
The disruption provoked heated rhetoric on local radio this  week and
one opposition party called for the dismantling of the   Lavalas
political movement, which had swept Aristide to power  in 1991.        
A spokesman for Lavalas Family -- Aristide's new party and a breakaway
faction of the Lavalas grass-roots movement which  dominates Haitian
politics -- said the troublemakers were  opponents of the party who were
attempting to sully its image.  However, the spokesman added: ``The
people must  demonstrate against anything which is not done in their
interest.''Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest and a champion of
the    poor, was overthrown by the military and forced into exile in 
1991. A U.S.-led invasion in 1994 ousted the generals and restored him
to power. He handed over the presidency to  Preval in 1996 and has
remained a low-key but influential figure in haitian politics who many
believe is seeking a return to power. Preval, Aristide's friend and
hand-picked successor, called  Sunday's incident ``unfortunate'' and
Prime Minister Jacques  Edouard Alexis deemed it
``unacceptable.''         The opposition coalition, the Patriotic
Movement for National        Rescue (MPSN) said the international
community should remove Lavalas by force if necessary.  ``We call for a
military action by the international forces still  stationed in Haiti,
to intervene ... to put a stop to the  destabilising activities of the
Lavalas movement,'' MPSNspokesman Reynold Georges said.  ``This must
happen immediately because it is the only way to remove these people
from power.''         Georges also called for the restoration of Haiti's
army, which was disbanded after the invasion.  The incident also cast
doubt on the ability of the police to   ensure the vote will take place
amid calm and security.  Evans Paul, former Port-au-Prince mayor and
leader of        opposition Democratic Unity Convention, said the 
troublemakers threatened him with violence and one pulled a revolver on
him.       Police did not intervene, he said. CEP vice-president Debussy
Damier told Reuters the civic education campaign could take place in
such an atmosphere.