Sunday, October 3, 2004

Police hold Haiti Senate leader

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Haiti's Senate president and two other politicians allied with ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have surrendered to police after barricading themselves in a radio station for six hours, denying involvement in clashes that have killed at least 14 people.

Heavy gunfire erupted in several parts of downtown Port-au-Prince after the three politicians were led out in handcuffs from the offices of Radio Caraibes Saturday night.

"They are kidnapping me. They have no reason to arrest me. It is an illegal arrest," Senate president Yvon Feuille said as he was led away.

A judge involved in the negotiations said they were detained on illegal weapons charges.

At least five men were killed Friday by gunmen outside the home of an anti-Aristide community leader in the seaside slum Village de Dieu, residents said Saturday.

Police also fired on a peaceful demonstration of Aristide supporters in the neighborhood of Bel Air on Friday, killing two young men, said Anne Sosin, a human rights monitor of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

Radio Metropole reported one civilian shot dead in a pro-Aristide demonstration Friday, while Justice Minister Bernard Gousse said police had killed two gang leaders Thursday in fighting in Cite Soleil, a seaside slum teeming with Aristide loyalists.

The headless bodies of three police officers turned up Friday. They, along with a fourth policeman, were killed in clashes Thursday in the capital Port-Au-Prince, police said.

"Aristide's partisans have begun an urban guerrilla operation that they call Operation Baghdad," human rights activist Jean-Claude Bajeux said Saturday.

"The decapitations are imitative of those in Iraq, and they are meant to show the failure of U.S. policy in Haiti."

Aristide's Lavalas Family party on Thursday began three days of commemoration of the 1991 coup that toppled Aristide's first government. They are demanding an end to the "occupation" by foreign troops -- referring to the U.S.-led force that followed Aristide's February ouster and U.N. peacekeepers who have taken over since June.

Aristide, now in exile in South Africa, has accused U.S. agents of kidnapping him when he was flown out of Haiti on a U.S.-chartered jet amid a bloody rebellion. But the U.S. government insists Aristide left of his own free will.

In the Village de Dieu -- which means Village of God -- several people fearing for their lives abandoned homes after the five men were killed Friday. The anti-Aristide activist who lived in the home targeted, Jean Renald, escaped and went into hiding, residents said.

Lavalas party officials said their demonstrations were peaceful and blamed the interim government and anti-Aristide infiltrators for the violence.

The three politicians barricaded themselves inside Radio Caraibes' offices as police surrounded the building after the three men went on the air with a pro-Aristide message.

They denied involvement in any crime. Feuille said police told him they had found weapons in a car outside belonging to one of the three, but he denied the car belonged to them.

"We came here to say it is necessary to make peace," former Sen. Gerard Gilles said hours before he was arrested along with Feuille and Roudy Herivaux, a former member of the Chamber of Deputies.

Earlier Saturday, another Lavalas official, former Chamber of Deputies member Joseph Axene, was arrested outside the station on a separate warrant for an unknown offense, the Haitian broadcaster Radio Megastar reported.

Some Haitians are criticizing the failure of U.N. peacekeepers to control the violence and the country's chamber of commerce denounced "the inaction of the U.N. multinational force" in a statement.

"We're doing the best we can," U.N. spokesman Toussaint Kongo-Doudou said. "Right now it's difficult to be everywhere."

The aftermath of Tropical Storm Jeanne, which killed more than 1,550 and left some 900 missing two weeks ago, has tied up some 750 of the 3,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops in Haiti.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson was scheduled to visit Haiti on Sunday to tour the hard-hit northwestern city of Gonaives and meet with officials in the capital.

The U.S.-backed interim government has proved largely ineffectual in responding to urgent needs in Gonaives, where Argentine troops fired shots in the air and smoke grenades Saturday trying to keep order while food was distributed.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.