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9996: Armed men storm Haiti National Palace (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Michael Deibert

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Gunmen stormed Haiti's National
Palace before dawn on Monday in an apparent coup attempt against President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide but were foiled after a shoot-out with security
forces, national radio reported.
     Seven of the gunmen were later captured, radio reports said. Two
policemen were killed, witnesses said, but President Jean Bertrand Aristide
and his family were safe.
     The action took place against a background of growing unrest in the
Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Americas.
     Anti-government protests have been rising and rumors of an attempt to
topple Aristide, a leftist who is Haiti's first democratically elected
president, have been swirling in the street.
     Thousands of Haitians poured into the streets of the capital
Port-au-Prince in protest at the apparent coup attempt, setting fire to
     The gunmen, reported by local radio stations to be former members of
the Haitian military, entered the palace grounds shortly after 5 a.m. (0900
gmt). They were routed after an exchange of fire with palace security
forces, the radio said.
     The gunmen were trapped for some time in the basement of the National
     Private radio Haiti-Inter said later that the gunmen, who numbered
seven, had been captured by the police.
     The gunmen entered the palace grounds after a shootout with Haitian
National Police officers. The bodies of two police officers lay in their
vehicle on the capital's Champ des Mars park early on Monday morning,
witnesses said.
     The area was surrounded by Haitian security forces and crowds of
people holding tires, machetes and guns.
     "Turn them (the gunmen) over to us! We know what to do with them!"
screamed a young man holding onto the palace gate.
     Witnesses said earlier that they believed soldiers from the
neighboring Dominican Republic were involved but there was no confirmation
of that and analysts said it appeared to be unlikely.
     Disturbances were also reported in the southern city of Les Cayes.
Haitian authorities were advising people to stay indoors, Radio Ginen
     Coup fears have been running high in Haiti in recent days as a result
of increased tensions between Aristide's Lavalas Family Party and the
opposition Democratic Convergence, culminating in several days of rioting
in the coastal city of Petit Goave last week.
     A crowd of several hundred armed men charged up the main thoroughfare
of Avenue Jean Paul II on Monday morning, shouting they were going to burn
down Convergence's headquarters and kill its members.
     Soon after, it was reported that the crowd set fire to the Convergence
building and also to offices of the Caribbean organization CARICOM.
     Aristide and the opposition have been at odds since disputed
legislative elections in May 2000. Critics both in the impoverished
Caribbean nation and abroad have said the way the results were calculated
unfairly benefited the Lavalas Family.
     The controversy has resulted in the suspension of $500 million of much
needed international aid to Haiti, which has a population of about 8
million people.
     Aristide, the country's first freely elected president, is serving a
second term. A former Roman Catholic priest, he was elected on a tide of
grass-roots support in 1990 promising a new era after decades of bloody
     He was overthrown by the military in September 1991 and then restored
to office in 1994 with the help of U.S. military intervention. He was
re-elected a year ago in presidential elections boycotted by the opposition
because of the dispute over the earlier parliamentary elections.
     Monday's attack was reminiscent of one launched this past summer, when
former members of the military, disbanded by Aristide after the 1991 coup,
attempted to seize police stations in the capital and in the rural Central
Plateau region only to be turned back by security forces.