Coup Attempt Thwarted in Haiti
By Michael Deibert
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Dec 17—Gunmen stormed the National Palace in
Haiti before dawn on Monday in an apparent coup attempt against President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide but were foiled after a shoot-out with security forces, officials and witnesses said.
"We have the palace under control," Chief of Palace Security Oriel Jean
Baptiste told reporters. "One of the attackers is dead, some are in custody,
and some have
Two policemen guarding the palace were also killed, witnesses said.
Aristide and his family were asleep at their private home at the time and
were safe, palace
The action took place against a background of growing unrest in the
poverty-mired Caribbean nation, which has a bloody history of political
violence but has been
relatively stable under the rule of the populist Aristide.
Anti-government sentiment has been rising, a dispute with the opposition
has held up desperately needed international aid, and rumors that a coup
might be attempted
against Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president, have been swirling in the streets.
There was no immediate word of who the gunmen were affiliated with, although suspicion fell on members of the former military.
The army, which ruled this country of 8 million people in brutal fashion
for several years in the 1980s and 1990s, was disbanded after U.S. intervention
which restored Aristide to power following an earlier coup.
Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, draws much of his support from Haiti's poor and is disliked by the elite.
As word spread of the apparent coup attempt on Monday, thousands of
ordinary Haitians, some armed with machetes, poured into the streets of
Port-au-Prince and set tires ablaze in a show of support for Aristide.
"Turn them (the gunmen) over to us! We know what to do with them!" screamed a young man holding onto the palace gate.
Security forces took up positions in the area.
"The president is in control," Communications Minister Guy Paul said
on a mid-morning broadcast on Radio Solidarite, adding: "The Haitian government
violence and asks the population to stay peacefully mobilized."
The gunmen entered the palace grounds shortly after 5 a.m. (0900 GMT),
according to local radio stations, who identified them as ex-soldiers.
They were routed
after an exchange of fire with palace security forces, the radio said.
The gunmen were trapped for some time in the basement of the National Palace. Private radio Haiti-Inter said later that police captured seven gunmen.
They had entered the palace grounds after a shoot-out with police officers.
The bodies of two officers lay in their vehicle on the capital's Champ
des Mars park,
Witnesses said earlier that they believed soldiers from the Dominican
Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, were involved
but there was no
confirmation of that and analysts said it appeared to be unlikely.
Coup fears have been running high in Haiti in recent days as a result
of increased tensions between Aristide's Lavalas Family Party and the opposition
Aristide and the opposition have been at odds over the results of disputed
legislative elections in May 2000, which critics say were calculated to
Lavalas. The controversy has resulted in the suspension of $500 million of international aid.
Witnesses saw a crowd of several hundred armed men charge up the main
thoroughfare of Avenue Jean Paul II on Monday morning, shouting they were
burn down Convergence's headquarters and kill its members.
Radio later reported the crowd set fire to the Convergence building and also to offices of the Caribbean organization CARICOM.
Aristide was elected on a tide of grass-roots support in 1990, promising a new era after decades of bloody dictatorships.
He was overthrown by the military in September 1991 and then restored
to office in 1994 with U.S. military help. He was re-elected a year ago
elections boycotted by the opposition because of the dispute over the earlier parliamentary elections.
Although a champion of the poor, his critics accuse him of behaving in an increasingly autocratic fashion.
Amnesty International, in a report last month, said Haiti was at a critical juncture in its human rights situation. It highlighted a series of killings by police.
In July, gunmen dressed in military uniforms attacked a police academy
in Port-au-Prince, killing three officers in an unexplained raid that triggered
protests across the
© 2001 Reuters