Aristide vows crackdown on opposition in Haiti
BY YVES COLON
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Calling Haiti's opposition politicians ``enemies
of the Republic,'' the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide raised
the stakes Wednesday in
its fight with a coalition of opponents who are challenging Aristide's legitimacy.
In a communiqué issued Wednesday, the government said ``that
tension continues to mount in the capital. The enemies of the Republic
have not laid down their
The statement said the government would end what it called illegal acts by its opponents.
Such a move will likely mean the arrest of Gerard Gourgue, the
75-year-old jurist and human rights activist the opposition has established
as the country's alternative
But the government has set no deadline for a crackdown on the opposition, a coalition of 15 parties known as Convergence Democratique.
On Monday, renegade Aristide supporters trapped a group of Convergence
activists in their Port-au-Prince headquarters. The confrontation became
a standoff on Tuesday
when Aristide supporters rushed the offices, throwing stones, lobbing Molotov cocktails and firing weapons.
The Convergence members were forced to cower for a day before being escorted from the building late Tuesday under the protection of police.
Backers of Aristide's Family Lavalas party have been calling on
the government to arrest Gourgue on charges that Convergence is creating
disorder and inflaming
passions or for treason. Minister of the Interior Henri-Claude Menard said last week that his government would no longer tolerate Gourgue's alternative presidency.
Menard on Wednesday said ``we are going into second gear. We are taking our responsibility to follow the law.''
Gui Paul, minister of communications and culture and a close aide
of Aristide, was more direct. ``Order and discipline have to be established.
We have to draw the line
somewhere,'' he said. ``In a matter of days, if there is no change, Mr. Gourgue will be arrested unless the two sides can come to some sort of agreement.''
In a taped message sent to radio stations Wednesday, Aristide
condemned the violence that has shaken his country. He said he had asked
his justice minister and the
police to do their jobs. He did not provide any details.
The president said he was open to dialogue. However, Aristide
laid the blame for the turmoil at the feet of the opposition, saying that
they caused it when they named a
provisional president challenging the will of voters.
Sauveur-Pierre Etienne, a spokesman for the Convergence, dismissed
Aristide's charge. ``He didn't say anything about the people who were attacking
us yesterday, but
according to him, we are the ones responsible for the violence because we tried to defend ourselves,'' Etienne said.
``That doesn't make any sense. He's telling his people to do their jobs and we take that as a threat.''
Etienne said several members of the peasant organization loyal
to an anti-Aristide leader were wounded by gunfire in a demonstration that
was broken up outside of
Hinche in the Plateau Central, several hours from the capital. He said Lavalas sympathizers with heavy weapons cut off a bridge leading to the city and would not let the
march organized by Movement Paysans Papaye take place.
DOUBTS ON END
The leader of the organization, Jean-Baptiste Chavannes, a former Aristide ally, was reportedly wounded in the battle but that could not be independently confirmed.
``We don't know how this is going to end,'' Etienne said. He added,
however, that he would not yet call what was occurring between his group
and the ruling party a civil
war. ``How can you talk about a civil war when war means that both sides fighting have weapons?'' he said.
``We don't have guns. If they come after us, it's going to be a massacre.''
The opposition coalition of 15 political parties wants new elections,
saying last year's elections, which gave Lavalas a majority in Parliament
and Aristide the presidency,
were fraught with irregularities. Negotiations between Lavalas and Convergence broke down in February, before Aristide's inauguration, and there are no signs that both
sides will soon sit down to settle their disputes.
Meanwhile, the capital, which witnessed running mob violence over
the past four days, was getting back to its usual rhythm Wednesday. Children
returned to school and
traffic clogged the streets.
However, many businesses still remain closed the day after Aristide
supporters attacked the opposition in the most violent outburst so far.
Two people were reported dead
and 17 others wounded in confrontations that began over the weekend when hundreds of people who say they are Lavalas members erected flaming barricades throughout
the city, bringing the capital to a standstill.
Last week government supporters broke up a peaceful demonstration by members of Convergence, beating up several of its members.
Another group surrounded a school owned by Gourgue, threatening to burn down the building with the students inside.
Parents and teachers say the children were traumatized by that incident.
Gourgue on Tuesday appealed to the international community for
support, saying the goal of Lavalas was to eliminate all dissent and to
install a new dictatorship in Haiti.