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a34: Haiti quiet day after foiled coup attempt (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By Michael Deibert
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Banks and shops reopened and
streets were crowded with Christmas shoppers in Haiti on Tuesday, a day
after security forces repelled an apparent coup attempt by a band of gunmen
who stormed the National Palace.
Authorities said nine people were killed in the palace assault and
resulting mob violence in the streets of the capital and other cities but
Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was not harmed and his government
About 30 armed men attacked the palace in downtown Port-au-Prince
before dawn on Monday after a failed attempt to break into the nearby
National Penitentiary, police said.
Many of the gunmen, who according to police wore military uniforms
similar to those of the disbanded Haitian army, escaped after killing two
police officers at the scene. Police said one gunman died in a shootout
with security forces who fought off the attackers.
Two bystanders were killed in the melee and two suspected
collaborators were set ablaze near the palace by a mob that gathered in the
wake of the assault, police and witnesses said.
Local Radio Signal FM reported that two other "suspected
collaborators" were burned to death on Monday in the city of Gonaives,
about 60 miles (97 km) north of the capital, taking the death toll to nine.
The violence ten months into Aristide's second term as president
raised fears of a return to the poor Caribbean nation's bloody past.
Since Aristide's victory in 1990 as Haiti's first freely elected
president, the nation of 8 million people has struggled to establish
democratic institutions following decades of brutal dictatorship and
Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, claimed his second victory
last November in a vote boycotted by major opposition parties angered by
tainted parliamentary elections in May 2000. Aristide's Lavalas Family
party and the opposition alliance Democratic Convergence have been at odds
Hundreds of people, mostly Aristide partisans and many armed with
machetes and guns, poured into the streets near the palace in the hours
after the assault, setting up barricades of burning tires to block
intersections. Violence flared in the southern cities of Jacmel and Petit
Many of the barricades had been swept away by Tuesday morning but at
least one charred vehicle remained in the streets of the capital. The
palace sustained some damage with windows shattered and walls riddled with
bullets, a palace official said.
One of the gunmen was arrested at the palace, palace spokesman Orville
Jean Baptiste told reporters. Police said another suspect, Pierre
Richardson, was arrested at Haiti's border with the Dominican Republican
with a large sum of cash, several documents in Spanish and an M16 rifle.
Speaking on Radio Carnival in Miami, where tens of thousands of
Haitians live, Guy Philippe, a former police chief in the northern city of
Cap Haitien, denied public speculation that he was involved in the attack.
Philippe fled to the Dominican Republic after a failed armed assault
that targeted police stations in the capital and the Central Plateau region
five months ago.
Local media also speculated that the palace and penitentiary assaults
might have been connected to the recent arrest of Patrick Guillaume, police
chief of Petionville, an upscale suburb of the capital.
Guillaume was jailed at the National Penitentiary a week ago in
connection with the kidnapping of two children from a family managing a
successful series of independent lottery operations in the capital, a
source close to the government said.
Aristide appeared on national television and radio late on Monday and
called on Haitians to "mobilize peacefully, respect the rights of political
parties, respect the rights of journalists, respect the rights of all
people without distinction."
The speech came after witnesses said people reacting to the apparent
coup attempt had burned the headquarters of the opposition Democratic
Convergence coalition, and the headquarters of two of its member parties.
"The coup is a regrettable event, when we're trying to build a
democracy here," Lavalas spokesman Jonas Petite said. "But we do not
support attacks on individuals or property."
Aristide was elected on a wave of grass-roots support in 1990. He was
overthrown by the army in September 1991 and then restored to office by a
U.S. military invasion in 1994.
Although a champion of the poor, Aristide has been accused of behaving
in increasingly autocratic fashion. Amnesty International, in a report last
month, said Haiti was at a critical juncture in respect to human rights.
The report highlighted a series of killings by police.