A student march on Wednesday surrounded parliament to protest against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Education Minister Myrtho Celestin Saurel’s July decision to delay student elections and fire the university vice chancellor.
       Celestin Saurel has since named an interim vice chancellor to prepare for a new university election this month.
       After seizing the university building, the crowd, joined by market women and high school students, went to the National Palace in downtown Port-au-Prince where they climbed the front gates shouting ”Down with criminals!” and ”We don’t want Lavalas!” — a reference to Aristide’s Lavalas Family party.
       ”The government enacted the situation which brought about the action you see today,” said agronomy student Jean David, as fellow students waved Haitian flags and pictures of Argentine-born revolutionary Che Guevara.
       ”While Aristide and Lavalas want to control everything, our country is dying.”
       Already the poorest country in the Americas, Haiti has been battered by economic woes since Aristide began his second term in February 2001. Inflation has risen 16 percent and the gourde currency has lost 40 percent of its value in the last year.
       A pyramid investment scheme collapsed last summer and wiped out the life savings of tens of thousands and a recent rumor that the cash-strapped government was planning to convert bank accounts held in U.S. dollars to Haitian currency at a low rate resulted in depositors withdrawing $20 million in three days.
       Another anti-government protest is set for Sunday in the northern city of Cap-Haitien.
       Timed to coincide with a historic defeat of colonial French forces in the city in 1803, the march is expected to attract thousands of opposition politicians, students, journalists and rights activists dissatisfied with what they characterize as Aristide’s corrupt and violent tenure.
       Restored to power by U.S. troops nearly a decade ago, Aristide was overwhelmingly elected to a second term as president in November 2000, but has since been locked in a dispute over May 2000 legislative elections, which his opponents contend were biased to favor Aristide’s party.
       The deadlock has stalled over $500 million in international aid.