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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.