Presidential supporters march in Port-au-Prince while stores and schools are closed by an opposition strike.
By MICHAEL NORTON
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Thousands paraded through a square in Haiti's capital Tuesday waving flags in support of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide while opponents shut down businesses in a strike to press for his ouster.
The contrast between throngs carrying photos of Aristide and shuttered stores, schools and banks underlined deepening divisions in the impoverished country, where demonstrations have increasingly sparked violence.
''Five years, no matter what!'' the crowd chanted, insisting Aristide will finish his term in 2006 and not step down. ``We're ready for them.''
Aristide supporters held the demonstration outside the National Palace to celebrate the 13th anniversary of his first electoral victory on Dec. 16, 1990.
''Today we're celebrating our joy and pride in a president who has given us freedom without violence,'' said Pierre-Jude Mondelus, a 38-year-old in the crowd, which paraded to the beat of a carnival band.
The protest strike was called by opposition parties and a coalition of 184 business associations, labor unions and other groups.
''We must continue the struggle to the end in order to uproot the bloody, criminal, outlaw government,'' the coalition said in a statement.
Most street merchants and small shops, however, stayed open.
On Monday, the United States accused the Haitian government of suppressing peaceful political demonstrations by paying ''armed thugs'' to crack down on crowds protesting Aristide's rule.
''The United States deplores the violent suppression of political demonstrations that have occurred in Haiti recently,'' State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a statement.
He called on Aristide's government ''to end immediately its efforts to stifle legitimate dissent'' and to work with the Organization of American states to resolve the political crisis peacefully.
Poverty has deepened while the government and opposition have been locked in disagreement since 2000 legislative elections.
The government accuses the opposition of trying to spoil state-sponsored
celebrations Jan. 1 for the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence from