Originally: Split Widens in New Haiti Tension

PORT-AU-PRINCE · Demonstrations grew and polarization deepened in Haiti Friday as accusations and counter-accusations flew during another massive anti-government demonstration Friday to press for the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Led by business, student and cultural leaders, but with the participation of upwards of 20,000 citizens, protesters responded to a call from the Platform of Civil Society and Opposition Organizations and marched several miles singing slogans demanding Aristide resign.

As they paraded with signs and flags, marchers were cheered by scores of car and bus drivers who shook their fists or honked their horns.

People on balconies and roofs waved, and business people and shopkeepers handed out water and soft drinks as demonstrators shouted such slogans as “No elections under Aristide!” and “Aristide, listen to the minority!”

The latter reference was to Aristide’s claims that his opponents are “a tiny minority,” a charge he repeated Thursday as he inaugurated a square before a crowd of thousands of cheering people in Fontamara, a neighborhood on the edge of the capital.

Friday’s march, which rivaled Monday’s massive anti-government protest, was paralleled by a much smaller demonstration by several thousand led by pro-government militant René Civil and including several government vehicles and elected officials. Pro-Aristide protesters marched to Haiti’s National Palace, chanting,”If Aristide isn’t in power, who will replace him?”

In Miami, a group of South Floridians who want Aristide out of office held a rally on the corner of Northeast First Avenue and 54th Street in the Little Haiti section to support the protesters in Haiti. Another rally is planned for this afternoon at the Federal Building in Broward County.

“We want Aristide to leave the country,” said rally organizer Lucy Orlando, president and founder of the Haitian American Republican Caucus. “We are sick and tired.”

By 6 p.m. the crowd in Miami had grown to about 100 people. At one point, the protesters sang, “Hide the babies. Aristide is passing by,” and one protester held two small children close to her.

The dueling marches came as reports emerged that a member of Haiti’s justice system had fled to the U.S., denouncing pressure from high-level government officials he said tried to force him to sign illegal arrest warrants targeting protest organizers.

In a taped interview aired by the capital’s radio stations Friday, Deputy City Prosecutor Daméus Clamé Ocnam said he was summoned to Haiti’s National Palace and asked to sign warrants for three organizers of the December 22 anti-government march where two people were killed. Two men died during the march called by the Group of 184 Organizations.

As it neared the National Palace, a carload of armed civilians shot in the air. Haitian anti-riot police responded with gunfire. Witnesses and journalists reported seeing two men fall.

Police later said they would carry out an investigation into the deaths, but the Haitian Press Agency, traditionally supportive of the government, immediately reported the shooters were suspected of being security guards for march organizers.

In his taped message, Ocnam said government officials asked him to be “an accomplice in a maneuver” and he refused. The warrants were for businessman André Apaid Jr. and lawyer Gervais Charles, members of the Group of 184, and Hervé Saintilus, a university student leader.

Ocnam said that under pressure, he agreed to sign lesser summons and then decided to flee the country.

Chief Prosecutor Riquet Brutus Friday challenged Ocnam’s story, saying that no meeting ever took place at the palace, and that the summonses were part of the investigation into Monday’s shooting deaths. Apaid said his lawyers advised him to ignore the summons that was illegal.

The anti-government march came only six days before Aristide plans to lead celebrations of Haiti’s bicentennial in the capital and in Gonaives, Haiti’s “City of Independence.”

Gonaives has been the scene of 40 violent deaths over the past three months, most as a result of police attempts to control an anti-government revolt of a former pro-government gang, some of whose members are armed.

On Dec. 22, police attacked the poor neighborhood of Raboteau, reportedly looking for members of the Artibonite Resistance Front who they said vandalized equipment related to the bicentennial celebrations. Journalists said at least eight people were killed.

The next day, the Catholic priests of Gonaives denounced the police action and asked Aristide to resign. In their Dec. 23 declaration, the priests said 200 years after the defeat of the French slaveholders, “our own brothers want to make us slaves in our own country.”