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a272: Haiti's Aristide seeks to soothe media on freedoms (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By Michael Deibert
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan 7 (Reuters) - With his government under
criticism for its treatment of the media, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide met on Monday with 200 representatives of local media to stress
his government's commitment to freedom of the press.
Many journalists called on Aristide to take seriously threats against
reporters, to investigate crimes against them and to offer more openness in
investigations into such crimes.
"The government must do its best to protect the press and political
parties," Aristide said to the group.
His meeting coincided with an appeal on Monday from the Miami-based
Inter American Press Association (IAPA) for greater efforts by his
government to build press freedom.
IAPA said that since an attack by gunmen on the presidential palace on
Dec. 17, "the lack of respect and tolerance in Haiti has forced dozens of
journalists into exile and remain in hiding, since they feel that by
staying in their country they are living in constant fear for their lives."
About 30 heavily armed men, identified later by authorities as former
members of Haiti's disbanded army, tried to storm the National Palace in
what the government called an attempt to oust Aristide and the ruling
Lavalas Family party.
The attack was quelled within hours but pro-Lavalas mobs roamed
Port-au-Prince for a day, torching opposition buildings and the homes of
party members. Thirteen people died in the attack and the retaliatory
violence. Opposition politicians said the attack was staged as a pretext to
crack down on opposition parties, the media and civil rights groups.
The IAPA said in a statement it was concerned over "acts of violence
and threats against the press in Haiti" and called for Aristide to
investigate the incidents and demand that his political supporters stop the
harassment and respect freedom of the press.
In addition to current fears, the murders of two journalists were
prominent in Monday's meeting.
Journalist Jean Dominique, 69, owner of independent Radio Haiti Inter,
was gunned down along with a guard at the station, Jean-Claude Louissaint,
on April 3, 2000. Radio journalist Brignol Lindor was hacked to death in
the coastal city of Petit-Goave in December.
Among journalists' complaints was the process of investigation into
Dominique's death. Investigating Judge Claudy Gassant's term expired on
Jan. 5, and his efforts to indict a suspect, Lavalas Sen. Dany Toussaint,
have met with resistance and threats from some members and supporters of
Guy Delva, a correspondent for the daily Le Nouvelliste newspaper and
general secretary of the Association of Haitian Journalists, called on the
president to reappoint Gassant and to instruct the Senate to lift
Toussaint's parliamentary immunity.