[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

7451: Aristide vows crackdown on opposition in Haiti (fwd)

From: radman <resist@best.com>

Published Thursday, March 22, 2001

Aristide vows crackdown on opposition in Haiti


BY YVES COLON  ycolon@herald.com

PORT-AU-PRINCE - Calling Haiti's opposition politicians "enemies of the 
Republic," the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide raised the 
stakes Wednesday in its fight with a coalition of opponents who are 
challenging Aristide's legitimacy.
In a communiqué issued Wednesday, the government said "that tension 
continues to mount in the capital. The enemies of the Republic have not 
laid down their weapons."
The statement said the government would end what it called illegal acts by 
its opponents.
Such a move will likely mean the arrest of Gerard Gourgue, the 75-year-old 
jurist and human rights activist the opposition has established as the 
country's alternative president.
But the government has set no deadline for a crackdown on the opposition, a 
coalition of 15 parties known as Convergence Democratique.
On Monday, renegade Aristide supporters trapped a group of Convergence 
activists in their Port-au-Prince headquarters.  The confrontation became a 
standoff on Tuesday when Aristide supporters rushed the offices, throwing 
stones, lobbing Molotov cocktails and firing weapons.
                         LEFT BUILDING
The Convergence members were forced to cower for a day before being 
escorted from the building late Tuesday under the protection of police.
Backers of Aristide's Family Lavalas party have been calling on the 
government to arrest Gourgue on charges that Convergence is creating 
disorder and inflaming passions or for treason. Minister of the Interior 
Henri-Claude Menard said last week that his government would no longer 
tolerate Gourgue's alternative presidency.
Menard on Wednesday said "we are going into second gear. We are taking our 
responsibility to follow the law."
Gui Paul, minister of communications and culture and a close aide of 
Aristide, was more direct. "Order and discipline have to be established. We 
have to draw the line somewhere," he said. "In a matter of days, if there 
is no change, Mr. Gourgue will be arrested unless the two sides can come to 
some sort of agreement."
In a taped message sent to radio stations Wednesday, Aristide condemned the 
violence that has shaken his country. He said he had asked his justice 
minister and the police to do their jobs. He did not provide any details.
The president said he was open to dialogue. However, Aristide laid the 
blame for the turmoil at the feet of the opposition, saying that they 
caused it when they named a provisional president challenging the will of 
Sauveur-Pierre Etienne, a spokesman for the Convergence, dismissed 
Aristide's charge. "He didn't say anything about the people who were 
attacking us yesterday, but according to him, we are the ones responsible 
for the violence because we tried to defend ourselves," Etienne said.
"That doesn't make any sense. He's telling his people to do their jobs and 
we take that as a threat."
Etienne said several members of the peasant organization loyal to an 
anti-Aristide leader were wounded by gunfire in a demonstration that was 
broken up outside of Hinche in the Plateau Central, several hours from the 
capital. He said Lavalas sympathizers with heavy weapons cut off a bridge 
leading to the city and would not let the march organized by Movement 
Paysans Papaye take place.
                         DOUBTS ON END
The leader of the organization, Jean-Baptiste Chavannes, a former Aristide 
ally, was reportedly wounded in the battle but that could not be 
independently confirmed.
"We don't know how this is going to end," Etienne said. He added, however, 
that he would not yet call what was occurring between his group and the 
ruling party a civil war.  "How can you talk about a civil war when war 
means that both sides fighting have weapons?" he said. "We don't have guns. 
If they come after us, it's going to be a massacre."
The opposition coalition of 15 political parties wants new elections, 
saying last year's elections, which gave Lavalas a majority in Parliament 
and Aristide the presidency, were fraught with irregularities. Negotiations 
between Lavalas and Convergence broke down in February, before Aristide's 
inauguration, and there are no signs that both sides will soon sit down to 
settle their disputes.
Meanwhile, the capital, which witnessed running mob violence over the past 
four days, was getting back to its usual rhythm Wednesday. Children 
returned to school and traffic clogged the streets.
However, many businesses still remain closed the day after Aristide 
supporters attacked the opposition in the most violent outburst so far. Two 
people were reported dead and 17 others wounded in confrontations that 
began over the weekend when hundreds of people who say they are Lavalas 
members erected flaming barricades throughout the city, bringing the 
capital to a standstill.
Last week government supporters broke up a peaceful demonstration by 
members of Convergence, beating up several of its members.
Another group surrounded a school owned by Gourgue, threatening to burn 
down the building with the students inside.
Parents and teachers say the children were traumatized by that incident.
Gourgue on Tuesday appealed to the international community for support, 
saying the goal of Lavalas was to eliminate all dissent and to install a 
new dictatorship in Haiti.