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9605: Opposition Strikes iNovember- NOVEMBER 15, 17:55 EST (fwd)

From: Stanley Lucas <slucas@iri.org>

NOVEMBER 15, 17:55 EST 
Opposition Strikes in Haiti 

Associated Press Writer 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP)  A general strike organized by the political opposition shut down much of Haiti's second-largest city Thursday, while slum dwellers in the capital set up barricades to protest the lack of government services. 

In the north-coast city of Cap-Haitien, home to more than 100,000 people, the two-day general strike closed schools, government offices and most businesses. Banks remained open. 

Late Thursday afternoon, a small group of pro-government demonstrators and politicians was chased away from the streets by rock-throwing opposition supporters. But no one was injured during the first day of the strike, which the 15-party opposition alliance Convergence organized to protest the policies of President Jean Bertrand-Aristide. 

``The country is dying. We're fed up with this government,'' said Rev. Milton Chery, the Convergence spokesman, speaking by telephone from Cap-Haitien, some 81 miles west of the capital. 

The independent radio station Venus reported that about 80 percent of the businesses in Cap-Haitien were closed. 

Cap-Haitien is plagued with garbage-filled streets and lack of running water. Electricity is only available for a few hours on some days. 

In the past week, there also have been small Convergence-led demonstrations in Petit-Goave and Gonaives, coastal towns west of the capital. 

Convergence is one of two protest movements that have sprung up in Haiti's provincial cities. 

The other is led by grass-roots activists of the governing Lavalas Family party, who have demanded the resignation of the premier, Jean-Marie Cherestal. 

Both accuse the government of corruption and ineffectiveness. 

The government's inability to provide basic services in the face of extreme poverty also has caused unrest in the slums of the capital, Port-au-Prince. 

On Thursday morning, the highway connecting the capital to suburban Carrefour was blocked by slum dwellers protesting the lack of electricity, water and telephone service. Flaming tire barricades also were set up on the road to the suburb of Delmas. 

The government blames the economic difficulties on the international community and the opposition. Foreign donors have blocked some $500 million in aid to Haiti because of the government's standoff with the opposition over flawed local and legislative elections last year. 

Aristide's Lavalas Family won 80 percent of the contests in what the opposition says was rigged balloting. 

Foreign donors have said they will not release the aid until results are revised, but the opposition and the government have not been able to reach an agreement on new elections.