PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan 10 (Reuters) -- Political troubles were
reaching boiling point in Haiti with parliament, the presidency, and popular
groups heading for a showdown on Monday.
Popular organisations supporting Fanmi Lavalas (Lavalas Family), the party
founded by former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, planned to demonstrate
outside the Caribbean nation's Legislative Palace on Monday to block the
opening of parliament's 1999 session.
The organisations, in radio broadcasts, asked members to prevent lawmakers
from entering the building, saying they should instead step down. Parliament is
dominated by a Lavalas splinter group, the Organisation of People in the
Struggle (OPL), which the pro-Aristide groups oppose.
The Haitian National Police and the country's SWAT team were expected to
surround the palace to prevent any violent clashes, a parliament deputy said.
French-speaking Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, shares
the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Spanish-speaking Dominican
Republic. About 80 percent of Haiti's population of some 7 million live in
An electoral decree signed by Aristide when he was still in power in 1995
shortened the legislature's elected term from four years to three. Aristide's
supporters say that means the terms of virtually all members of the lower
house Chamber of Deputies and upper house Senate should be over by now.
However, long-running political chaos has meant that no elections to replace
the existing legislators have been held.
In late November, sitting senators voted to extend their term, saying they
to prevent an empty parliament and make sure the power of the executive
branch continued to be held in check. The lower house also wants to stay on
rather than leave parliament empty.
Aristide, whose term as the country's first democratically elected leader
marred by a military coup and three years in exile, has broadly hinted that he
wants to seek the presidency again in elections due in 2000.
He has made no public statement on whether the legislators should stand
down or extend their terms, however.
Monday's planned demonstration by his party's supporters coincides with
efforts to name a new prime minister for Haiti, which has not had one since
June 1997, when Prime Minister Rosny Smarth resigned.
Last month, Haiti appeared to be making headway toward resolving the
19-month crisis when both houses of parliament ratified Education Minister
Jacqs, who had been nominated by President
Rene Preval, as prime minister.
Parliament rejected three previous Preval nominees for the prime minister's
job after Smarth departed.
But Alexis must still present his government policy and choice of cabinet
ministers for parliament approval before he can assume office.
President of the Chamber of Deputies Vasco Thernelan said he has invited
Alexis to appear before parliament on Tuesday to present his government
programme. But everyone is waiting to see what happens on Monday.
"If the prime minister responds, we will meet Tuesday.
Everything depends on what happens Monday," Thernelan told
Reuters, sitting at his desk in the nearly empty parliament
building on Saturday.
"I thought elections would have been organised by now,"
Thernelan said. "If we don't take responsibility to move this
country forward, we risk coming to a point when only the
president is leading this country by himself and ruling by
Thernelan, who belongs to the OPL, said he believed the
executive branch would like to see the sitting parliament forced
to step down because of its history of confrontation with
The United States, which in 1994 led a multinational force
of 20,000 troops to restore the deposed Aristide to power after
three years of military rule, has been working behind the scenes
to try to stabilise Haiti's political situation.
U.S. special envoy Anthony Lake, the former White House
national security advisor, was in Haiti over the weekend in
low-profile meetings with Alexis, Preval and other officials.
The political deadlock has held up accords for hundreds of
millions of dollars in international loans to Haiti.
Copyright 1999 Reuters.