PORT-AU-PRINCE, Nov 17 (AP) — Most stores closed and many teachers

skipped class in Haiti’s capital Monday in a strike called three days after

rock-throwing supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide broke up a

rally by government opponents.

   Drug stores, banks, bakeries and gas stations closed in Port-au-Prince,

and many children hiked home after their teachers did not arrive.

   But market vendors were working and buses were running as usual.

   A coalition of 184 civil groups called the one-day general strike,

saying it wanted to send a message that government opponents should be able

to assemble freely.

   On Friday, Aristide supporters penned coalition members into the corner

of a square where they had gathered to present proposed government reforms.

   The larger crowd of government backers threw rocks, and police dispersed

the crowds with tear gas. No Aristide supporters were arrested, but police

detained 25 members of civil groups for questioning.

   Coalition leader Andy Apaid Jr. called them “political prisoners” and

criticized the police response.

   But government spokesman Mario Dupuy called the rally a “provocation”

and accused the groups of “implementing a plan to destabilize the


   Monday’s strike was intended as a nationwide protest. In Cap-Haitien,

the second-largest city, banks and large businesses closed, but other

businesses remained open.

   “No one heard anything about the strike. Times are hard, and I don’t

know what I would have done if I had heard,” said Jean Toussaint, 25, who

owns an auto parts store.

   Tensions in Haiti — the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country — have

increased since 2000 legislative elections the opposition charged were


   In recent months, clashes during anti-government protests left more than

a dozen people dead and scores wounded.

   The opposition refuses to participate in legislative elections proposed

for this year and demands that Aristide resign.

   The coalition has not demanded Aristide resign but has criticized his

responses to violence and poverty.

   “The country is heading toward the edge of a cliff. We have to keep it

from falling off,” Apaid said.

   Aristide vows to serve until his term ends in 2006.

   Citing the rally, U.S. Ambassador James Foley also said he would skip
celebrations Tuesday marking the 200th anniversary of a Haitian victory

over French troops just outside northern Cap-Haitien.

   “The refusal of state authorities to let a peaceful demonstration take

place has cast a shadow on the bicentennial celebrations,” Foley said in a