Caribbean team tries to mediate in crisis
Strikes and protests are announced in Haiti as a delegation from the Caribbean Community arrives to try to mediate in the political crisis.

By PAISLEY DODDS and MICHAEL NORTON, Associated Press Writers

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – South African President Thabo Mbeki met with Haitian opposition leaders Friday, a day after bloody clashes marred the 200th anniversary of Haitian independence

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide political opposition also reiterated a demand that he step down, issuing a declaration calling for a transitional government.

At least eight anti-government protesters were injured Thursday in clashes with police. The demonstrations underscored the deepening crisis facing Aristide.

Thursday’s observance of the 200th anniversary of Haiti‘s independence from France also drew more than a dozen foreign delegations, including one led by Mbeki.

On Friday, Mbeki called Haiti‘s independence and founding as the first black republic an inspiration, saying Africans on both sides of the Atlantic face common challenges of poverty and conflict.

Mbeki told opposition leaders that South Africa wasn’t offering to mediate but that he wanted to hear their views, opposition politician Evans Paul said. He said Mbeki didn’t take sides.

But Mbeki later emerged after a separate meeting with a coalition of 184 civil groups, saying he couldn’t say what role South Africa will play in Haiti‘s future.

Some were critical of Mbeki presence for the bicentennial.

“His arrival brought oxygen to a dying dictatorship,” said businessman Andy Apaid Jr., a prominent Aristide critic. He said Mbeki “should bear some responsibility in following the situation.”

American actor Danny Glover said Friday the celebrations were inspiring but that he was “disappointed and dismayed” at the unrest.

Also Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a visit to Trinidad and Tobago, said he is encouraging the Caribbean Community to take a greater role in helping Haiti deal with its crisis.

Tensions have increased since Aristide’s party swept 2000 legislative elections that some observers said were flawed. The contested seats were eventually vacated by senators, but the opposition has refused to join in new elections unless Aristide steps down ? a demand he has refused.

Since mid-September, violent anti-government protests have killed at least 41 and wounded scores.