1 post • Page 1 of 1
Aristide Supporters March Through Haiti
Friday March 5, 2004 8:16 PM
By MARK STEVENSON and PAISLEY DODDS
Associated Press Writers
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Thousands of supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide marched through the streets Friday, shouting their anger at his ouster. A seven-member council was chosen to find a new prime minister for a transitional government.
``Long live Aristide!'' and ``Down with George Bush!'' the protesters yelled as U.S. Marines watched impassively from inside the gated National Palace.
It was the biggest demonstration since Aristide fled the country Feb. 28, when rebels prepared for a final push on the capital and the United States and France urged him to step down.
U.S. Marines arrived the day Aristide left, followed by French and Chilean troops, forming the vangua
rd of a U.N.-sponsored peacekeeping force expected to number about 5,000. Canada said it is sending 450 soldiers within days.
The Marines so far have met no resistance, though there has been none of the jubilation that accompanied their last intervention in Haiti - in 1994, when 20,000 troops ousted a brutal military dictatorship, halted an exodus of boat people to Florida and restored Aristide to power.
"If it comes to that, we will confront the U.S. Marines,'' said demonstrator Pierre Paul, 35. ``We will do the same thing that they are doing in Iraq.''
A spokesman said U.S. troops had expanded their presence in Haiti beyond the capital and into rebel strongholds. Special teams from the U.S. Southern Command in Florida arrived at rebel bases of Cap-Haitien, on Haiti's north coast; the western city of Gonaives; and possibly other locations across the country, said Army Maj. Richard Crusan, spokesman for the interim international force.
The teams are in addition to the 1,10
0 Marines in Port-au-Prince, Crusan said.
Witnesses in Cap-Haitien said police were disarming rebels who took that city on Feb. 22.
Radio Metropole said there has been some resistance to disarming, particularly in Gonaives, but no fighting was reported.
Such resistance is expected to be strongest in Gonaives, where a rebel movement on Feb. 5 sparked the uprising that led to Aristide's flight. Aristide claims he was abducted at gunpoint by U.S. Marines, charges the Bush administration strongly denies.
Crusan said U.S. forces had not been involved in any shooting anywhere in the country.
Paul Arcelin, an adviser to rebel leader Guy Philippe, told The Associated Press on Friday the rebels would keep their weapons as long as Aristide militants were armed because ``tomorrow they'll come here and kill us.''
Asked where the rebel guns were, he said: ``We hide them.''
Philippe, apparently under pressure from Washington, has promised that his fighters would
disarm. But no plan have been announced for the rebels to hand in their weapons, which Philippe said were at their bases around the country.
On the political front, the seven-member Council of Sages is expected to name a new prime minister within days, the Organization of American States said. The council was chosen by members of Aristide's Lavalas Family party, the broad-based opposition Democratic Platform coalition, and the international community, said OAS spokesman Edward Alexander.
Opposition leaders have been pressing for the replacement of Yvon Neptune, Aristide's premier.
One possible choice is Lt. Gen. Herard Abraham, who succeeded Gen. Prosper Avril when he was ousted in a palace coup in 1990. Abraham immediately surrendered power to Haiti's Supreme Court justice - probably the only Haitian army officer ever to voluntarily hand power to a civilian. That allowed the transition that led to Haiti's first free elections in December 1990, which Aristide won in a landslide.
A semblance of normality returned Friday to Port-au-Prince's La Saline neighborhood, a seaside slum and Aristide stronghold, after the Marines' first tentative patrols there.
``Today is the first time we have opened since the crisis began,'' auto repair shop manager Loubens Seintil said.
Opposition leaders also met Friday with Philippe, who has said he wants to reinstall Haiti's disgraced army. The army has fomented 32 coups in Haiti's 200 years of independence and its murderous instincts and corruption are largely blamed for making the Caribbean country one of the most miserable in the world. Aristide disbanded the army in 1995.
Aristide lost popularity in recent years as he failed to improve life for Haiti's poor while his aides lived lavish lifestyles that some allege were fueled by drug trafficking. As opposition grew, Aristide used police and militant loyalists to attack his opponents.
Aristide denies those charges and said the violence came from the oppositi
Opposition leader Evans Paul told France's LCI television that they hoped soon to bring charges against Aristide, who remains in secluded asylum in the Central African Republic. Officials there said they still were hunting for a third country to give him permanent asylum, but also were willing to offer it.
Associated Press writer Paisley Dodds in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004