PORT-AU-PRINCE, Sept 21 (Reuters) Riot police fired tear gas at hundreds of demonstrators on Saturday as they protested over the disappearance of a popular community leader in Haiti’s capital
Port-au-Prince, witnesses said.
The disturbance, which centered in the southern Port-au-Prince slum of Martissant, was sparked by the disappearance on Thursday of Felix Bien-Aime, former director of the Port-au-Prince cemetery and a political activist affiliated with the Lavalas Family party of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Neighborhood residents said that Haitian National Police officers arrested Bien-Aime after he had a traffic dispute with government officials.
Police spokesman Jean-Dady Simeon denied on Friday that Bien-Aime was in police custody. Bien-Aime’s car was found abandoned in an area outside the capital that once served as a favored dumping ground for the bodies of the victims of Haiti’s dictatorships.
Protesters burned tires along Route Nationale 2, a major artery that connects the capital with the country’s southwest and hurled rocks and bottles at police as they tried to intervene, witnesses said.
“Traffic is completely blocked and there are flames all across the road,” said local resident Blanchard Leroy via telephone from the district. “No cars are being allowed to pass.”
There were no immediate reports of casualties. Haiti’s Aristide began his second term as President in this impoverished Caribbean nation of 8 million in January 2001. He has since been locked in a two-year dispute with the Democratic Convergence opposition coalition over May 2000 legislative elections that his opponents contend were biased to favor Aristide’s party.
The deadlock has resulted in the suspension of more than $500 million in international aid.
In a resolution passed earlier this month, the Organization of American States called for a restoration of aid to the country, as well as calling for disarmament of political militants and the arrests of those
responsible for violence.
The disturbance Saturday was reminiscent of an incident that occurred in August in the provincial city of Gonaives.
There, a jailbreak by another imprisoned former government supporter, Amyot Metayer, resulted in the escape of more than 150 prisoners, the burning of several government buildings and three days of rioting as demonstrators called for Aristide’s resignation.