Originally: Haitian demonstrators march for embattled president
By Amy Bracken
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan 21 (Reuters) – In one of the largest
demonstrations for months in Haiti’s capital, more than 20,000 people
marched on Wednesday in support of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the
face of calls for his ouster.
Meanwhile, for the second time in three days, police prevented
anti-Aristide demonstrators from marching by firing tear gas into the
university grounds where the students and other protesters had gathered.
Students threw rocks at the police.
The demonstrations took place as some of Aristide’s critics, who
accuse him of trampling on civil rights and have demanded that the
president step down, met in the Bahamas with representatives of the
Caribbean Community, Caricom.
“Ten years ago the people of Haiti saw Aristide as a messiah. But with
time they understood he is a liar, a dictator who builds his regime on
three pillars — lies, corruption and violence,” Victor Benoit of the
opposition coalition Democratic Convergence told reporters in Nassau before
the talks began.
Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who was wildly popular when
he first took office in in 1991, has been at loggerheads with his opponents
since he was re-elected for a five-year term in 2000, a few months after
parliamentary elections whose results were disputed by opponents.
Wednesday’s pro-Aristide demonstration, about five hours of marching
from the capital’s slum of Belair to the National Palace, looked like a
street party. Men, women and children danced, sang, drank, smoked
marijuana, and played homemade instruments.
The crowd chanted, “Aristide for five years!” and “Aristide is king!”
Street merchants and other spectators danced and clapped in support of the
At another end of town, anti-Aristide demonstrators clashed with
police. Police have blocked protesters from marching to the National Palace
or through slums in which Aristide remains popular.
Aristide’s opponents say he should step down to make way for a
transitional government, and have said there are not adequate safeguards
for a fair vote in parliamentary elections the president says should be
held within six months. Aristide has said he will not step down until his
term ends in 2006.