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a36: Michelle Faul on coup attempt

Police Search for Conspirators in Haiti; Opposition Claims Coup Attempt
Was Staged

By Michelle Faul Associated Press Writer 

Published: Dec 19, 2001 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Police hunted for the leaders of an assault
on Haiti's National Palace and some opposition leaders charged the failed
coup was really staged by the government as a pretext to crush dissent. 
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide called Monday's assault by armed men a
failed coup and afterward hundreds of his supporters armed with machetes
and revolvers burned opposition offices and homes across the country. They
killed at least two people. 
On Tuesday, banks and schools reopened, street vendors returned to their
stalls and Haiti's international airport reopened, but the border with the
Dominican Republic remained closed. Streets in the capital still smelled
of smoking tires. 
"The so-called coup d'etat was a masquerade," opposition leader Evans Paul
said. The former Port-au-Prince mayor's party headquarters were destroyed
Monday - for the third time in 10 years - by Aristide supporters. 
Aristide was not in the palace at the time of the assault. Authorities say
33 heavily armed men killed two police officers and took over one wing of
the building for seven hours before they fled. Two passers-by were shot by
fleeing attackers. 
Paul, who was Aristide's campaign manager in 1990 but now leads an
opposition party, pointed to what he called the "absurdity" of 33 men
attacking the palace, which is guarded by hundreds of police officers. He
also said it is widely known that Aristide rarely spends the night there. 
Authorities said one of the attackers was killed in a gunbattle at the
palace in central Port-au-Prince and a wounded gunman was captured at a
roadblock near the border with the Dominican Republic. The rest escaped. 
Aristide said police had made "a strategic retreat" to allow the attackers
to get away so they could "snare them in a fish net." 
Aristide became Haiti's first freely elected president in 1990 but was
ousted by the army in 1991 after eight months in office - despite protests
by thousands of people who took to the streets to protect their new
democracy and president. 
Aristide loyalists, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of
anonymity, acknowledged that demonstrations Monday in response to the
violence at the National Palace weren't spontaneous. They said
pro-Aristide organizers told them Sunday night, hours before the attack,
that something was happening and that they should mobilize. 
Aristide said police were searching for dozens of conspirators on Tuesday.
Palace spokesman Jacques Maurice said the attackers wore the khaki and
camouflage fatigues worn by the army that Aristide disbanded in 1995. 
The United States appealed Tuesday to the Haitian government and
opposition parties to reach agreement in their long-running conflict over
election issues. 
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher condemned the raid on the
palace and the mob violence that followed, saying it "underscores the need
for dialogue and reconciliation among all elements of Haitian society." 
Haiti has been plagued by eight major revolts and thwarted or successful
coups since 1986, when the Duvalier family was ousted in a popular
uprising after a 29-year dictatorship. 
After the 1991 coup, Aristide spent three years in exile before President
Clinton sent 20,000 troops to restore him to power. In 1996, he stepped
down because of term limits and was replaced by his protege. 
In November 2000, Aristide was re-elected following disputed legislative
elections earlier in the year that led the international community to
freeze most aid. He took office in February.