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a9: Haiti-Unrest (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   PORT-AU-PRINCE, Dec 18 (AP) -- Haiti's beleaguered government staved off
an apparent coup attempt, with police recapturing the presidential mansion
from armed men in a day of violence that killed at least seven people.
   Monday's attempt prompted revenge attacks by supporters of President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who took to the streets with machetes and torched
the homes and offices of opposition leaders.
   Aristide and his family were sleeping elsewhere and were not in the
National Palace when 33 men stormed it in the hours before dawn, killing
two police officers. Two passers-by were killed as some of the gunmen fled.
Three other people, including one of the attackers, died as violence
   Police said they were searching for dozens of conspirators who escaped.
   "We have thwarted the coup, but it's not all over," Aristide said in a
speech at the palace.
   At the time of the attack, the president and his family were at their
private home in suburban Tabarre, three miles away, said palace spokesman
Jacques Maurice. The downtown National Palace is Aristide's office and
official residence, but he rarely stays there.
   Haiti's airports and border with Dominican Republic were closed, and
airlines canceled flights. The violence prompted the U.S. Embassy to close
and urge Americans in the impoverished Caribbean country to stay home.
   After the attack, hundreds of Aristide supporters surrounded the palace,
wielding machetes and shouting, "We'll never accept another coup d'etat."
   Police later arrested one wounded and heavily armed man in a pickup
truck on a road to the neighboring Dominican Republic, police spokesman
Jean-Dady Simeon said.
   A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that in
radio transmissions the attackers identified their leader as the former
police chief of the northern city of Cap-Haitien, Guy Philippe. He fled to
the Dominican Republic last year with seven police officers accused of
plotting a coup.
   But Philippe called The Associated Press from the Dominican Republic to
deny involvement, saying the attack "was a staged event to give a pretext
for attacking the opposition."
   Aristide became Haiti's first democratically elected president in 1990
but was ousted by the army just eight months later.
   He was restored to power in 1994 by U.S. troops. When a term limit
forced him to step down in 1996, he was replaced by his protege, Rene
   Aristide was re-elected in November 2000 and began his second term in
   On Monday, Aristide urged an end to the violence. But his followers took
to the streets anyway, setting ablaze the headquarters of the Convergence
opposition alliance in the capital and three buildings belonging to
opposition parties.
   The homes of opposition leaders Gerard Pierre-Charles and Victor Benoit
were burned down.
   Aristide supporters also set ablaze the home of opposition leader Luc
Mesadieu in the northern city of Gonaives. Two men were killed there by the
mob and their bodies were burned, independent Haiti Inter radio reported.
   "I don't know what happened at the National Palace, but it has become a
pretext to massacre the opposition," said opposition leader Gerard Gourgue,
who went into hiding in fear of his life.
   The attack began about 2 a.m. Monday when the armed men lobbed a grenade
at the National Palace and opened fire as they entered, Maurice said. Two
officers were killed and six were injured, he said.
   Some attackers fled the palace in a pickup truck, national radio
reported. The gunmen shot and killed two passers-by as they fled, witnesses
   By midmorning, police had regained control of the palace, shooting and
killing one gunman. He, like others in the group, was dressed in the khaki
fatigues of Haiti's former army, which Aristide disbanded in 1995. The
gunman's body was shown on national television in a pool of blood.
   Since Aristide's Lavalas Family party swept parliamentary and local
elections in May 2000, Haiti has been mired in unrest. The opposition calls
the elections fraudulent and foreign donors refuse to release hundreds of
millions of dollars in aid until the results are revised.
   There also has been mounting grass-roots opposition to Aristide within
his party. Protesters accuse Aristide of failing to deliver on promises of
basic services like sanitation and electricity.