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7451: Aristide vows crackdown on opposition in Haiti (fwd)
From: radman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Published Thursday, March 22, 2001
Aristide vows crackdown on opposition in Haiti
BY YVES COLON email@example.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
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.
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
"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.