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#3058: Haitian Capital Rocked by Violent Protests (fwd)


Wednesday March 29 7:59 PM ET 
 Haitian Capital Rocked by Violent Protests By Jennifer Bauduy

 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - The downtown commercial center of
 Port-au-Prince was nearly shut down on Wednesday during a third day of
violent election-related protests that have rocked the Haitian capital.
 Street protesters who claim allegiance to former President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide erected barricades of flaming tires at
intersections throughout the city. They called for general elections and
for the resignation of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), and
protested the rising cost of living. ``The CEP is not competent enough
to hold elections,'' one protester said.Protesters threw rocks and
smashed car windows, terrorizing drivers and pedestrians by the Church
of St. Jean Bosco, Aristide's former parish.One group forced a driver
from his car then poured gasoline on the vehicle and set it on fire,
witnesses said.Legislative elections have been postponed three times and
President Rene Preval has refused to ratify a new date chosen by the
CEP, claiming it was wrongly announced. Preval dissolved parliament in
January 1999 to end an 18-month political stalemate and installed a new
prime minister and cabinet. He has ruled by decree ever since.
 Opponents say the rising violence is a strategy by Aristide's Lavalas
Family party to put off elections until the end of the year, to be held
with presidential elections when Aristide is expected to run for and win
the presidency. Holding legislative and presidential elections together
would help Aristide partisans win office on the coat tails of their

 Lavalas Family Party Backs Peaceful Protests

 Lavalas Family spokesman Yvonne Neptune said the party backed any
peaceful protests for Haiti to have fair elections. The results of
Haiti's last legislative election in April 1997 were annulled because
 of widespread fraud. The European Union, the U.S. and the Organization
of American States have called on Haiti to hold elections immediately so
that a parliament can be seated by a constitutionally mandated June
date. ``We are not here to defend the interests of foreign countries
before we defend the interests of our own people,'' Prime Minister
Jacques-Edouard Alexis told reporters. He said Haiti would not be
pressured into holding elections before it was ready. In other
election-related violence, on Monday, two members of the right-wing
 Patriotic Movement for National Salvation (MPSN) were assassinated in
the town of Petit-Goave, 42 miles (68 km) southwest of the capital,
party leader Hubert De Ronceray said. Haiti, the poorest country in the
Americas, has been mobilizing for elections since the CEP was installed
by Preval 12 months ago. Preval in his four years as president has not
organized a single successful election. Aristide, Haiti's first freely
elected president, was ousted in a military coup in 1991 after only
seven months in power. The United States sent 20,000 troops as part of
an international invasion force to restore Aristide to power in 1994.