Originally: Thousands March in Haiti for New Leaders and Army
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, March 7 ? Thousands of Haitians, including the rebel leader Guy Philippe, marched through the capital alongside a convoy of heavily armed United States marines today calling forcefully but peacefully for a new government and a new army in Haiti.
The march to the presidential palace started when a convoy of United States marines and French soldiers, about 50 in all, joined by a platoon of Haitian police, rolled up to St. Peter’s Church during the Mass in a wealthy suburb of Port-au-Prince.
Several hundred Haitian demonstrators immediately started marching alongside the rolling convoy of foreign soldiers, making them part of the march.
The river of people grew to many thousands as it reached Toussaint L’Ouverture Boulevard. The demonstration surged around the marine convoy, carrying soldiers armed with .50-caliber machine guns and assault rifles.
Forces from the Haitian coast guard and a special-operations team of Haitian police joined the march as well. At the boulevard Mr. Philippe, one of the main armed rebel leaders who led the uprising against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February, appeared in the crowd directly alongside the marines.
The realization that Mr. Philippe was beside them caused apparent unease among the marines, whose ranking officer appeared to be a lieutenant.
“You see any weapons?” a marine asked a reporter. There were none in view among the rebel leader’s contingent and his followers.
By 11 a.m. the United States and French forces were almost swallowed up by the growing crowd marching to the presidential palace.
They chanted Guy Philippe’s name and sang songs praising him. Mr. Philippe has called for the restoration of the notorious Haitian army, and United States officials say there is no evidence he has disarmed his followers. Signs in the crowd pointed directly at the United States and its politics. The United States restored President Aristide to power in 1994 after the army overthrew him in 1991. Some of the signs read “Arrest Aristide!” Others said “Down with Bill Clinton!” and “Down with Jesse Jackson!”
The march was peaceful for its first two hours as the crowd approached the presidential palace. There was some drinking and celebration but no violence.
Some in the crowd sang in Creole, which has French, African and English roots, “Aristide, we’re sorry for you, you’ll only see us on video.”
Others chanted “Bring back the army!” and “Fix the police!” Followers of President Aristide planned a counterdemonstration elsewhere in the capital. The anti-Aristide crowd made up a song about them as it marched and jogged toward the presidential palace. It went something like this: “They’re here, they’re weird, look out for them.”
The demonstrators were calling this morning for a new government, freed both from the influence of Mr. Aristide’s party, Lavalas, and from the United States and its forces.
“We don’t want Lavalas!” the crowd sang. “We don’t want occupation.”
Mr. Aristide was carried into exile exactly one week ago in an American plane that took him to the remote Central African Republic, where he remains in exile today. Armed supporters of Mr. Aristide, as well as unarmed political supporters of the exiled president, remain a strong force here in the capital.
The armed factions supporting and opposing Mr. Aristide have each called on one another to lay down their arms, and each has said they will not do so until their enemies go first.
The marines also set up a checkpoint with armored vehicles, machine guns and missiles at a neighborhood near the palace called Poste Marchand. The district has been a stronghold of armed Aristide supporters.
The four-star general who commands American forces in the region, Gen. James T. Hill, said Friday that an important mission for the hundreds of American, French, Canadian and Chilean forces that have arrived here in the capital is to maintain security and create a sense of stability after the monthlong armed uprising.
Shortly after noon, three hours after the demonstration began it had still not reached the presidential palace, which marines have occupied all week. The marines reduced their visible presence at the palace on Friday, a United States military spokesman here said, to temper the image of an occupation.
In front of the palace, six motorcyclists identified by onlookers as children of Haiti’s small, wealthy elite showed off by popping wheelies on their motorcycles as they roared past the palace gates.
Several hundred supporters of Mr. Aristide gathered in front of the presidential palace awaiting the arrival of the demonstrators singing the praises of the exiled president.
“His blood is our blood,” they chanted.