Haiti's interim leader urges calm

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Haiti's interim president took the reins of his country's shattered government Monday as supporters of Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded the ousted leader's return. U.S. Marines acknowledged they killed one of seven people gunned down in weekend violence -- the first armed action of their week-old mission here.

Military helicopters circled overhead and U.S. Marines in armored cars patrolled the streets Monday outside the National Palace as Boniface Alexandre was formally installed.

"Aristide or death!" Aristide supporters yelled at the gates of the palace during the ceremony, their shouts carrying into the room where Alexandre urged his countrymen to remain calm.

"We are all brothers and sisters," said Alexandre, who has served as president for a week and was officially sworn in Feb. 29. "We are all in the same boat, and if it sinks, it sinks with all of us."

Monday's pro-Aristide demonstration was mostly peaceful, a sharp contrast to the massive anti-Aristide protest Sunday in which seven people were killed, including a foreign journalist.

U.S. Marines acknowledged Monday they killed one gunman at Sunday's demonstration. "He had a gun and he was shooting at Marines," Col. Charles Gurganus told reporters Monday.

Gurganus said they did not know who the man was, did not know where his body is, and did not have his weapon, which he said was snatched by someone.

The violence, the worst bloodshed since Aristide fled, led both opponents and supporters of Aristide to threaten armed action, damaging efforts to reach a frail peace.

Chief rebel leader Guy Philippe said Sunday's attack never would have happened if his men had not been asked to lay down their arms. He warned Monday that "I will reunite my men and take up arms" if the peacekeepers did not disarm Aristide loyalists blamed for Sunday's attack.

Later, Philippe met with opposition leader Evans Paul, with whom he has wanted to discuss reconstituting Haiti's disgraced army, whose brutality and corruption is blamed for keeping Haiti in misery.

Ignoring Aristide's claims to Haiti's leadership, a recently appointed seven-member Council of Sages was interviewing three top candidates for prime minister Monday, to replace Aristide appointee Yvon Neptune.

The new premier, whom the council hoped to name today, would form a transitional government from Aristide's Lavalas party and a disparate opposition coalition.

The candidates are:

-- Businessman Smarck Michel, Aristide's prime minister in 1994-1995 who resigned over differences in economic policy.

-- Retired Lt. Gen. Herard Abraham, who is probably the only Haitian army officer to voluntarily surrender power to a civilian, in 1990. He allowed the transition that led to Haiti's first free elections in December 1990, which Aristide won in a landslide.

-- Gerard Latortue, a former U.N. official and an international business consultant who was foreign minister in 1988 to former President Leslie Manigat. Manigat was toppled in one of the 32 coups fomented by Haiti's army, which ousted Aristide in 1991 and was disbanded after 20,000 troops came to Haiti in 1994 to halt an exodus of boat people to Florida and restore democracy.

Associated Press writers Ian James and Peter Prengaman contributed to this report from Port-au-Prince.

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