‘They want civil war’

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti – Tens of thousands marched in the largest demonstration against embattled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Sunday as political tensions across the country grew.

The march began at a church in suburban Petionville with about a thousand people carrying a banner calling for “Another Haiti.” But the crowd swelled to tens of thousands as the protesters approached the capital.

Riot police followed the protest. No injuries were reported but Aristide partisans threw sticks at the marchers at one point.

“Don’t be afraid!” said Reverend Pierre Andre Dumas, a Roman Catholic bishop. “We need to take another path so that Haiti can live.”

In a separate protest, an Aristide supporter was shot and killed in the town of Miragoane, 80km west of the capital, private Radio Vision 2000 reported.

It was not clear who shot him but Aristide partisans retaliated and set an anti-government protester on fire, the radio station said. The man was treated in hospital but reporters were unable to verify his condition.

During protests in the past four months, at least 46 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded. Both sides blame each other for the violence but most of the deaths have been anti-government protesters.

‘They want civil war’

“We want non-violent demonstrations but they want civil war,” said Cirvil Bernier, a 44-year-old construction worker and Aristide partisan. “That’s why we want to stop them.”

Meanwhile, the body of Police Chief Jeanty Edner was found on Sunday morning on a street in north-coast Cap-Haitien, news reports said. He had been shot in the chest, but the motive was not clear.

Government critics accuse Aristide of hoarding power, while the government accuses the opposition of impeding progress.

Tensions have been rising since Aristide’s party won legislative elections in 2000, that observers said were flawed.

The opposition refuses to participate in new elections unless Aristide steps down, but he says he will serve out his term until 2006.

“We are engaged in a struggle that is pitting the people against the state,” said Frandley Denis Julien, an anti-government activist in Cap-Haitien. “We need institutions. We need leadership. We don’t need a charismatic leader to replace Aristide.”