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7476: Haiti Opposition Figures in Hiding (fwd)

From: nozier <nozier@tradewind.net>

 Friday March 23 8:53 PM ET
 Haiti Opposition Figures in Hiding
By PAISLEY DODDS, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - The  head of Haiti's opposition alliance
and three    other government opponents went into  hiding Friday,
claiming some supporters of     newly elected President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide want to kill them.
 Opposition leader Gerard Gourgue, a 75-year-old schoolmaster who
declared himself an ``alternative'' president last month, disappeared
from public view a day after the Senate passed a resolution calling for
his immediate arrest. Pro-Aristide protesters have staged violent riots
for days, urging Gourgue's arrest on subversion charges. At least three
people have died and scores have been injured since March 14. On
Tuesday, Aristide supporters attacked the school that Gourgue operates,
throwing firebombs and opening fire on the building while Gourgue, his
family and 200 school children were inside. No one was injured inside
the school.
 ``This political persecution has to stop,'' Gourgue told The Associated
Press on Friday, saying he feared for his life. He spoke by phone before
going into hiding. Pro-Aristide militants set tires on fire and blocked
access to Leogane, a city 22 miles from Port-au-Prince, on Friday. In
Gonaives, 56 miles from the capital, an opposition leader's house was
stoned Thursday night, said Ernst Colon, who went into hiding with
Gourgue. No injuries were reported. The pro-Aristide militants say they
won't stop until Gourgue is arrested, and the justice and interior
ministers have indicated he would be arrested soon. The government has
not issued an arrest warrant. The U.S. Embassy said Friday it would
``strongly condemn'' any arrest of party leaders for ``exercising their
rights under the Haitian constitution to assemble peacefully and express
their political opinions.''
 Haiti's government says that because Gourgue refers to his opposition
 alliance as an ``alternative government,'' he is in violation of the
constitution. Aristide has condemned the violent demonstrations but said
there cannot be two governments in Haiti.
 Gourgue says he only heads a figurative government and that Aristide's
electoral victory last year was unconstitutional. The standoff stems
from last year's parliamentary elections, which gave Aristide's Lavalas
Family party a majority of seats in the Senate. The
 15-party alliance that Gourgue heads, Convergence, said the vote was
fraudulent and called for immediate new elections. The Organization of
American States said the election results were questionable and that 10
contested Senate seats should have gone to a
 second round of voting. Aristide's government recently proposed to
shorten the terms of office and hold new elections. Aristide also has
offered the opposition a place
 in the government, but opposition leaders refused, demanding new
 Gourgue and the three other opposition leaders - Colon, Sauvuer Pierre
 Etienne and Paul Denis - said they fear pro-Aristide militants more
than being arrested by the police. ``They want to kill us,'' Etienne
said. Gourgue, a human-rights attorney who was a presidential candidate
in 1987 before the military halted elections, said arresting him would
hurt Aristide's credibility.
 Since he won a second term in a presidential election last November
after five years out of power, Aristide has been trying to regain the
trust of the international community, which halted millions of dollars
in aid amid the concerns over the results of the legislative elections
in May.