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7401: Aristide backers clash with rivals (fwd)
From: radman <email@example.com>
Published Tuesday, March 20, 2001
Aristide backers clash with rivals
Violence forces partial shutdown of Port-au-Prince
BY YVES COLON firstname.lastname@example.org
With signs that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is failing in his promise
to free Haiti from chronic political violence, his supporters rioted Monday
in the capital Port-au-Prince and attacked opponents of the president's
newly installed government.
Shutting down parts of the city, Aristide sympathizers set up flaming
barricades and stoned cars trying to drive around the obstacles. Several
drivers were injured, according to news agency reports.
"The situation is deteriorating rapidly," said Edouard Paultre, a member of
a mediation group in Port-au-Prince that has tried to settle disputes
between Aristide and his political rivals. "We have entered a cycle of
violence and political terror."
Opposition leaders said Aristide's backers shot at their party offices and
threw rocks at some of their members, injuring three of them. An
independent radio station said it received death threats.
Chanting "Aristide or Death," government supporters demanded the arrest of
Gerard Gourgue, the veteran politician and human rights activist who is the
president of a parallel government set up by an alliance of political
parties that has challenged Aristide's victory in last November's elections.
"Our lives are in jeopardy," Gourgue said Monday. "The government and the
police have abandoned the country to street thugs."
Haitian officials dispute charges that the protesters are paid by
Aristide's Family Lavalas party to cow the opposition. "They [the
protesters] are doing this spontaneously because they're tired of it," Guy
Paul, minister of communication and culture said on Monday. "They're trying
to force the government to take this seriously, to finish with this
parallel government business. They're doing this alone."
The outbreak of violence, which has been simmering over several weeks and
came to the surface Saturday, prompted the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Brian
Curran, to appeal for calm.
"The embassy calls on the government and the National Police of Haiti to
respect and protect the democratic and constitutional rights of all
citizens and to allow them to peaceably assemble and express their
political opinions," Curran said in a statement.
Jean-Claude Bajeux, the head of a human rights center in the capital,
warned that Haiti now faces real turmoil. "The team in power now is going
full speed ahead and they're going toward the precipice," Bajeux said.
The dispute between Aristide and the opposition has been simmering since
May, following legislative elections that gave Lavalas an 80 percent
majority in the parliament. The opposition boycotted the presidential
elections, which an electoral commission said Aristide won with 92 percent
of the vote.
The opposition has rejected offers to join Aristide's government, saying
both elections were fraudulent.
The Organization of American States has also said 10 Senate seats won by
Aristide party members should have gone to a second-round vote, and
millions in international aid have been put on hold over the results.
Haiti's foreign minister, Antonio Philippe Joseph, addressed the Permanent
Council of the OAS in Washington last week, saying that his government was
searching for a "consensual solution of the crisis" stemming from the May
Antonio presented a new calendar for legislative elections, pointing that a
number of measures had been implemented in keeping with an eight-point plan
of engagement to which Aristide had committed himself in a letter to
President Clinton last December.
Two legislators, Republican Peter Goss of Florida and Democrat William
Delahunt of Massachusetts, reminded Aristide recently that the United
States will help Haiti tap into the promised $500 million in aid if he
keeps his promises.
That OAS meeting was a disaster for Haiti's government, said an observer of
Haitian politics who did not want his name used. Joseph wanted the OAS to
set a permanent mission to Haiti to satisfy the eight-point plan. They
turned him down.
"Without money the country goes down the drain," he said. "Without
Aristide making concessions, or the opposition accepting any concessions,
not a dime comes to Haiti."