Supporters, critics of Haiti’s president protest
By Michael Deibert
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Nov 25 (Reuters) – Thousands of people poured out of the slums and marched through the Haitian capital to support President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Monday in a bid to counter signs of growing discontent with his government.
In the central city of Gonaives, an anti-Aristide protest turned violent as five people were shot and wounded by Aristide supporters, private Radio Metropole reported.
The protests and counter-demonstrations were the latest in a series of rallies that have rattled the impoverished Caribbean nation in recent weeks as opposition groups and students protest a faltering economy and what they say is government interference in the school system and Aristide supporters hold their own demonstrations.
Aristide began his second term as president last year but a dispute with the opposition Democratic Convergence over contested May 2000 legislative elections has snarled the political process and stalled over $500 million in international aid to Haiti’s 8 million people.
At the pro-Aristide demonstration in the capital on Monday, hundreds of marchers, accompanied by a traditional voodoo band, waved Haitian flags and carried pictures of Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who rallied poor Haitians in the 1980s to overthrow the 30-year dictatorship of the Duvalier family.
“Aristide represents the power of the Haitian people,” said Rene Civil of the government-affiliated Youth Popular Power organization, one the march’s organizers. “You can see, as the young people of Haiti march for him, he will finish his five years.”
The marchers briefly surrounded U.S. consular offices in downtown Port-au-Prince, where some marchers chanted slogans sympathetic to Islamic militant Osama Bin Laden. Some Haitians blame the United States for the interruption of international aid to Haiti.
At one point Monday, the sound of shots fired in the air by a marcher sent the crowd running for cover, though no injuries were reported. By afternoon black smoke billowed from tires that Aristide supporters had set on fire in some quarters of the city but by most accounts the march remained relatively peaceful.
Government supporters gathered in front of the National Palace to listen as speakers lambasted the U.S. government and Aristide’s domestic opposition.
ANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTESTS IN GONAIVES
In Gonaives, two students and three other people were wounded when demonstrators were fired upon by members of the “Cannibal Army,” according to media reports.
The Cannibal Army is a street gang led by Amiot Metayer, a fugitive who staged a spectacular jailbreak in Gonaives in August. Metayer headed a pro-government rally in the city on Friday.
“This is completely unacceptable,” said Pierre Robert Auguste, president of the Gonaives region’s Association of Artibonite Business Leaders, on Radio Metropole. “The police and the government support these criminals, and now we must mobilize to change the situation.”
Haiti’s largest private sector association on Sunday said people acting under the protection of Haiti’s high authorities had set up a “climate of terror” and called for the arrest of several high-profile government activists, including Metayer.