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#3202: Haitian opposition blames Aristide for fire (fwd)


WIRE:04/10/2000 18:18:00 ET
 Haitian opposition blames Aristide for fire
PORT-AU-PRINCE, (Reuters) - A Haitian opposition party  leader    Monday
blamed former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide  and his        
supporters for the burning of the Espace opposition  party headquarters
over the weekend.  "Aristide gave them the direct order.He took the lead
of  the demonstration, he led the way," said Evans Paul, former  mayor
of Port-au-Prince and spokesman for the Espace de Concertation coalition
party. But Yvon Neptune, a spokesman for Aristide's Lavalas Family 
party, denied the charges. "Violence, burning of buildings and 
destroying the goods of small merchants, that's part of the  strategy of
the opposition to discredit the government,  discredit the police,    
discredit the Lavalas family and  Aristide," he said.  Surrounded by
armed guards, Paul spoke to reporters on  Monday in front of the ruins
of the Espace party headquarters  set ablaze on Saturday after thousands
of mourners, including  Aristide and President Rene  Preval, attended
the national  funeral for one of Haiti's most popular journalists, Jean 
Dominique, 69, at Haiti's main soccer stadium in Port-au-Prince.  
Police arrived 15 minutes before the fire but did nothing to intervene
as dozens of youths shouting pro-Aristide slogans  torched the Espace
headquarters, witnesses said. The marchers blamed Paul for the killing
of Dominique, who  was gunned down as he arrived for work at his
family-owned Radio  Haiti Inter on April 3. The Espace de Concertation
and Aristide's Lavalas  Family  have clashed violently in recent weeks.
Neither side has offered  any evidence to support their claims and
counterclaims, and no  arrests have been made in connection with the
killing of  Dominique or the fire at Espace.  After the Espace fire, the
crowd marched to another radio  station that had criticized the
government, Radio Vision 2000,  and threw rocks through the windows.   
Witnesses said the marchers  threatened to burn down  the radio station
and the headquarters  of another opposition party, the Organization of
People in Struggle, but did not carry out those threats. Haiti's  
government condemned the fire in a statement signed by Prime Minister
Jacques-Edouard Alexis on Saturday, and warned  that it "won't tolerate
anyone  disturbing the democratic order  in the country."  Dominique, a
long-time democracy advocate and close friend  of Preval, had criticized
many people in   his radio commentaries  including powerful Haitian 
drug barons, supporters of exiled  former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier,
and on occasion Aristide,  with whom he was said to be allied.          
Dominique's assassination has sparked terror in Haiti. Opposition
politicians, journalists and musicians critical of  the government have
all been forced underground."We are no longer simply competing,     
this was a declaration  of war," said Micha Gaillard, of the Espace de
Concertation  party, who is in hiding but made a rare public appearance
at  Monday's news conference. "We are in an atmosphere of 
dictatorship,not only the politicians, all citizens are  threatened."  
 Unidentified assailants also threw rocks through the windows  of a
community radio station in Haiti's Artibonite department,  north of the
capital, after it broadcast a program on the  assassination on Saturday.
The outbreak of threats and violence comes as Haiti struggles to
establish a working democracy following decades of  dictatorship and
military rule. Haiti has thrice postponed legislative and municipal    
elections that would be the first national vote in more than  three
years. Preval has rejected the latest date,April 9, set  by the
country's nine-member electoral council (CEP), and has  made no mention
of a new date.