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Haitian opposition masses for anti-Aristide demonstration

Monday, February 16, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Defying government loyalists, hundreds of activists demonstrated against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Sunday as exiled paramilitary forces joined rebels in a bloody uprising that has killed some 50 people.

Shouting "Down with Aristide!" members of a broad opposition alliance known as the Democratic Platform massed for the demonstration in Port-au-Prince, saying they didn't support violence but shared the same goal as the rebels -- ousting the embattled president.

Militants loyal to Aristide crushed a similar anti-government demonstration on Thursday, stoning opponents and blocking the protest route. There has been a steady string of protests since mid-September.

"We're still dealing with pacific, nonviolent means, but let me tell you we have one goal," said Gilbert Leger, a lawyer and opposition member. "We do support rebel efforts."

The rebels launched a rebellion nine days ago from Gonaives, 70 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince and Haiti's fourth-largest city, seeking to oust Aristide. The rebels have fortified Gonaives with flaming barricades, rusted cars and discarded refrigerators.

Although the rebels are still thought to number less than Haiti's 5,000-member police force, paramilitary leaders and police living in exile in the Dominican Republic have reportedly joined them.

Two Dominican soldiers were killed on the Dominican border at Dajabon on Saturday and their weapons were taken from them. It was unclear who was responsible for the killings, but in recent days a force of 20 men led by exiled paramilitary leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain crossed the border.

Dominican President Hipolito Mejia said Sunday that authorities would arrest any Haitian suspected of taking part in the uprising who tries to enter the Dominican Republic.

Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a former Haitian soldier who headed army death squads in 1987 and a militia known as the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH, which killed and maimed hundreds of people between 1991 and 1994, was seen in Gonaives by several witnesses.

Chamblain fled to the Dominican Republic after U.S. troops were sent to restore Aristide to power and end a bloody dictatorship in 1994.

Also spotted was Guy Philippe, a former police chief who fled to the Dominican Republic after being accused by the Haitian government of trying to organize a coup in 2002.

Witnesses reached by telephone said the men were working with rebels in Gonaives but were massing in Saint-Michel de l'Atalaye, about 28 miles to the east.

Dominican Gen. Fernando Cruz Mendez said Philippe would be arrested if he tried to re-enter the Dominican Republic.

In May, Haiti's foreign minister visited the Dominican Republic requesting that authorities turn over Philippe. Dominican officials had detained him earlier that month but released him after finding no evidence to support claims he was plotting against Haiti's government. No extradition treaty exists between the neighboring countries.

Meanwhile in Jamaica, police detained 10 Haitians, including eight police officers, who arrived Saturday by boat to Jamaica's eastern shore requesting political asylum. Police seized eight guns and some ammunition from the men. Immigration authorities were reviewing their asylum requests.

Discontent has grown in this Caribbean country of 8 million people since Aristide's party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000 and international donors froze millions of dollars.

However, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday the United States and other nations "will accept no outcome that ... attempts to remove the elected president of Haiti."

The United States sent 20,000 troops to Haiti in 1994 to end a bloody military dictatorship, restore Aristide and halt an exodus of refugees to Florida.

Washington says it plans no new military intervention.

Rebel roadblocks have halted most food and fuel shipments since the unrest began. Emergency supplies of flour, cooking oil and other basics are projected to run out in four days in northern areas, where roadblocks are guarded by rebels who have seized Gonaives and burned police stations in more than a dozen other towns.

Nearby, rebels blocked the road outside Trou-du-Nord leading to the Dominican border at Ouanaminthe. Merchants said the barricade of boulders and cars has cut supplies coming from the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

U.N. representative Adama Guindo appealed to police and rebels to open a "humanitarian corridor." Barricades have blocked deliveries to some 268,000 people dependent on food aid in northern Haiti.

Rebels also have retaken the town of Dondon and burned dozens of houses of Aristide supporters, according to witnesses who fled to the nearby northern port of Cap-Haitien. Police retook the town Feb. 9, when Aristide militants torched nine opposition houses.

On Friday night, rebels also attacked police in Saint Suzanne, some 20 miles southeast of Cap-Haitien, according to witnesses reached by telephone.


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