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9996: Haiti-Palace Shooting (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By MICHAEL NORTON
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Dec 17 (AP) -- Armed commandos stormed the National
Palace on Monday, taking over radio communications and killing at least two
policemen and two passers-by before police recaptured the palace, officials
Government officials described the attack as an attempted coup, but by
midmorning the police retook the palace and the situation was under
control, said Guy Paul, Minister of Culture and Communication.
At least six police were wounded in the attack, he said. It wasn't
immediately clear what happened to gunmen who authorities said had remained
inside the palace for hours. Others had reportedly fled earlier.
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his wife were unharmed in their
suburban home in Tabarre about three miles from the palace. He did not
immediately issue any public statement.
Hundreds of his supporters, wielding machetes, surrounded the palace,
shouting, "We'll never accept another coup d'etat."
The gunmen lobbed a grenade at the National Palace about 2 a.m. and then
began firing as they entered, Paul said. The presidential mansion is
protected by hundreds of guards, and it was unclear how the gunmen
penetrated the security.
"This is an attempted coup d'etat," said National Palace spokesman
Jacques Maurice. "This is not a staged event."
The gunmen killed two police officers guarding the palace when they
stormed the building early Monday, Maurice said.
The attackers stole a National Palace radio system and used it to
communicate among themselves, some in Creole and others in English and
Spanish, Maurice said.
Before attacking the national palace, the commandoes in three pickups
and a jeep, attempted to assault the national penitentiary, Maurice said.
When they were rebuffed, they then went on to the palace.
A pickup truck, apparently carrying some of the gunmen, sped out of the
palace in the morning and escaped despite the many barricades erected in
the capital, according to national radio. The men in the truck shot and
killed two passers-by as they fled, the radio report said.
In apparent retribution, Aristide supporters torched the headquarters of
the Convergence opposition alliance in the capital and also the
headquarters of the National Congress of Democratic Movements, a socialist
party that is a member of Convergence.
A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the
attackers identified their leader as the former police chief of northern
Cap-Haitien city, Guy Philippe, who fled to the Dominican Republic earlier
this year. Philippe's whereabouts weren't immediately clear.
Flaming tire barricades were burning on several corners in downtown
Port-au-Prince while cars were diverted away from the palace. Personnel
from the U.S. Embassy were told to stay at home.
Mischa Gaillard, a spokesman for the 15-party opposition alliance called
Convergence, declined to comment on the palace shooting.
Since Aristide's Lavalas Family party swept parliamentary and local
elections in May 2000, Haiti has been mired in unrest with the main
opposition group calling the elections fraudulent and foreign donors
refusing to release desperately needed aid until results are revised.
There has also been mounting grass-roots opposition to Aristide within
his own party. Protesters have accused Aristide of failing to deliver on
promises of basic services such as sanitation and electricity.
Aristide says his mandate has been hampered by lack of aid.
A government communique that aired early Monday on Radio Caraibes called
on Haitians to "block the way, on top and at the bottom" to anyone who
wants to destabilize the government.
Aristide, in a speech to police in June, called for a crackdown on
rampant crime, urging "zero tolerance."
Human rights group have denounced the slogan, saying some have
interpreted it as license to kill thieves and government opponents.