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a20: Aristide: Coup thwarted, but it's not over ( (fwd)

From: MKarshan@aol.com

Aristide: Coup thwarted, but it's not over
By Tim Collie
and Michele Salcedo Staff WriteRS

December 18, 2001

An early morning attack on Haiti's National Palace that appeared to be a political coup left seven people dead Monday and the country facing continued political disintegration as mob violence grows in its impoverished
cities and towns.

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was safe at his home several miles away during the 2 a.m. assault. Supporters of the ruling Fanmi Lavalas Party
immediately mounted attacks on opposition groups, burning homes and offices.

The motive of the attackers, heavily armed and dressed in the khaki uniform of the country's old military that Aristide disbanded, remained unclear late Monday.  

"We have thwarted the coup, but it's not all over," Aristide said in a speech at the palace. He also condemned attacks on his political opposition.

Locked in a dispute with an opposition party over last year's elections, Aristide's ability to govern has been crippled by growing crime, corruption and economic isolation by the United States and other international donors still skeptical of his commitment to political reform.

As social conditions steadily have worsened, street crime, vigilante justice and political paybacks have filled the void between the government and the
governed. Monday's assault was only the latest in a series of violent incidents over the last year that has included attacks on journalists and the lynchings of alleged street criminals.

"What's depressing to Haitians is that despite their best efforts, they still can't get it together, and that's a very debilitating thought right
now," said Luigi Einaudi, a special envoy to Haiti with the Organization of American States. "It's harder to make peace than it is to make war."

"You have to take the violence extremely seriously," said Einaudi, who has been attempting to negotiate an end to the country's political crisis. "How
real was [the coup]? They seem to have brought it under control pretty fast. You look at it in a certain context, and there is an attempt going on to
demonstrate the government is unstable and therefore shouldn't be dealt with."

At around 2 a.m. the attackers arrived at the palace, Haiti's symbolic seat of power, and lobbed a grenade at guards as they opened fire with machine
guns. Two police officers were killed and six others were wounded in the clash, according to a government spokesman.

As some of the gunmen escaped in a pickup truck, they opened fire on two passers-by in front of the palace and killed them, witnesses said. Guards
then killed one of the attackers and captured another.

At the palace, the attackers used the building's two-way radio system to communicate among themselves, some in Creole and others in English and Spanish, officials said. These officials said the attackers identified their leader as the former police chief of northern Cap-Haitien city, Guy Philippe. He fled to the neighboring Dominican Republic last year with seven police officers accused of plotting a coup. On Monday, he denied taking part in any coup.

As word of the attack spread, supporters of Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas Party paraded into the streets wielding machetes and attacked the headquarters and
homes of prominent opposition figures. Pro-Aristide radio stations monitored on the Internet called on supporters to rid the country of opposition,
saying "enough is enough."

Mobs torched the headquarters of the Democratic Convergence opposition alliance in the capital as well as three buildings that serve as headquarters for the socialist National Congress of Democratic Movements,
the center-left Convention of Democratic Unity and the rightist Alliance for the Liberation of Haiti, all members of the 15-party alliance.

"I don't know what happened at the National Palace, but it has become a pretext to massacre the opposition," said Gerard Gourgue, an opposition leader in hiding.

The country's current problems stem in part from parliamentary and local elections last year that were won overwhelmingly by Fanmi Lavalas candidates. The opposition called the elections fraudulent, prompting
foreign donors to hold back an estimated $500 million in aid until the dispute is resolved.

After examining the results, the OAS found that seven senators declared winners during the first round of voting should have faced runoffs. For more
than a year, the group has been trying to negotiate a resolution, only to be stymied by the demands of one side or the other. 

Like many familiar with Haiti's labyrinthine political culture, Einaudi suggested that Monday's events may have been the work of shadowy actors with various motives.

"They [Lavalas] got a lot of people out into the streets, but you see, maybe it wasn't really a coup attempt, maybe it was an attempt at provocation,"
said Einaudi. "You push, you do something, knowing people are going to react. In Haitian politics, someone throws a rock at you, you shoot back.
You don't stop to think about who did it." 

There also has been mounting grass-roots opposition to Aristide within his own party, a widening gap between true believers and opposing factions pushing for greater internal reform. On the street, protesters have accused Aristide of failing to deliver on promises of basic services such as sanitation and electricity.

"Lavalas could splinter -- there are some very serious divisions over human rights, over economics in the party," said Alex Dupuy, an expert on Haiti's
political culture at Wesleyan University. "There are definitely factions in the party that Aristide may not be fully in control of, people who want to
finish off the opposition once and for all."

Other observers suggest that a prolonged period of chaos is a greater risk than any coup. Fanmi Lavalas has a tight grip on the country's armed forces,
and there are no political leaders whose popularity approaches Aristide's.

The best-known opposition party, the Democratic Convergence, is little more than a loose grouping of ex-Communists, socialists and old supporters of
Haiti's former dictators, the Duvalier family

"There is a deep cynicism now on the street, because of the economic situation, the crime and all," said Robert Fatton, a Haitian-American who is chairman of the international government  program at the University of
Virginia. "But there is really no strong alternative to Aristide, no opposition that really had the popular support on the streets."