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a6: Haitian Forces Foil Coup Attempt Against Aristide (fwd)

From: Dan Craig <dgcraig@att.net>

Haitian Forces Foil Coup Attempt Against Aristide
December 17, 2001 
Filed at 7:43 p.m. ET 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - Gunmen stormed the National Palace in
Haiti before dawn on Monday in an apparent coup attempt against
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, raising the specter of the Caribbean
bloody past as dissatisfaction with his government grows.

Security forces foiled the bid after a shootout with the attackers,
officials said. Seven people, including a gunman and two police
officers, were killed in the incident. 

Later, thousands of Haitians loyal to the populist Aristide, some armed
with guns and machetes, took to the
streets, burning tires and crying for vengeance against the attackers. 

Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who is Haiti's first
democratically elected president, and his family were asleep at their
private home a few miles away at the time of the attack, palace sources

The president went to the palace hours after the assault and in a speech
broadcast to the nation asked Haitians to be vigilant in the face of the
attempted coup. 

"It is time to be patriots; the nation is in danger," Aristide said. "I
thank the population and the police for
defending democracy."

Haitian National Police spokesman Jean Dady Simeon said an estimated 30
armed gunmen stormed the palace before dawn.  The attackers were dressed
in military uniforms, Chief of Palace Security Oriel Jean Baptiste said. 


There was no official word on the affiliation of the gunmen, but
suspicion fell on members of the disbanded army. 

"One of the attackers is dead; some are in custody and some have fled,"
Jean Baptiste said. 

A crowd torched the offices of the main opposition political coalition,
the Democratic Convergence, and the
headquarters of two of its parties, KONAKOM and ALLA, witnesses and
radio reports said. 

"Turn them (the gunmen) over to us! We know what to do with them!"
screamed a young man holding onto the palace

Unrest flared in the southern cities of Jacmel and Petit Goave in
protest against the coup bid, radio reports said. 

Local radio stations identified the gunmen as ex-soldiers. The army,
which ruled Haiti in brutal fashion for several years in the 1980s and
1990s, was disbanded after a U.S. intervention in 1994 that restored
Aristide to power following his ousting in an earlier coup. 

Monday's attack took place against a background of growing unrest in the
impoverished country of 8 million people, which has a history of
political violence but has been relatively stable under Aristide's rule. 

Aristide draws much of his support from Haiti's poor and is disliked by
the elite. But anti-government sentiment has been rising lately; a
dispute with the opposition has held up desperately needed international
aid, and rumors had been swirling in the streets that a coup might be


The attackers killed two policemen on guard outside the palace in
downtown Port-au-Prince and took over radio
communications for a short while, officials said. They were routed after
an exchange of fire with palace security forces. 

Radio Haiti-Inter said police captured seven gunmen. 

The slain officers' bodies lay in their vehicle on the Champ de Mars
park, witnesses said. Two bystanders also were killed, police sources

Two suspected collaborators were burned to death by mobs, one in front
of the palace and another nearby, witnesses said. 

One of the gunmen was stopped later in the day at Haiti's border with
the Dominican Republic, carrying documents in Spanish and an M-16 rifle,
Simeon said. 

Communications Minister Guy Paul urged people to stay "peacefully
mobilized" but protests flared in the

The house of Gerard Pierre Charles, a Democratic Convergence member, was
burned to the ground in the Petionville suburb, radio reports said. He
was not at home at the time. 

A number of radio stations in the capital, including private Radio
Metropole, shut down and sent employees home
after receiving threats that their buildings would be torched. 

The United States shut its embassy in Port-au-Prince and told U.S.
citizens in the country to stay indoors. American Airlines canceled its
flights to Haiti -- four from Miami and one from New York, AA
spokeswoman Martha Pantin said. 

Coup fears had been running high in Haiti in recent days because of
increased tensions between Aristide's Lavalas Family Party and the
Democratic Convergence. 

They have been at odds over the results of disputed legislative
elections in May 2000, which critics say were
calculated to benefit Lavalas unfairly. The controversy has led to the
suspension of $500 million of  international aid.


Aristide was elected on a tide of grass-roots support in 1990, promising
a new era after decades of dictatorships. 

He was overthrown by the army in September 1991 and then restored to
office in 1994 by a U.S. military invasion. He was reelected a year ago
in elections boycotted by the opposition. 

Although a champion of the poor, his critics accuse him of behaving in
an increasingly autocratic fashion. Amnesty International, in a report
last month, said Haiti was at a critical juncture in its human rights
situation. It highlighted a series of killings by police. 

Witnesses said earlier they believed soldiers from the Dominican
Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, were
involved, but there was no confirmation of that.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company