January 22, 1999
Haitians stage general strike to back parliament

                  PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) -- Stores and schools were closed in Haiti
                  on Friday during a national strike called by political groups to oppose
                  President Rene Preval's decision to rule without parliament.

                  The standoff between Preval and the legislature began 11 days ago when
                  Preval said he would uphold an electoral law that set Jan. 11 as the end of
                  the term for most of the Caribbean nation's legislative and municipal officials.

                  Legislators objected to the decision, which in effect dissolved parliament and
                  allowed Preval to rule by decree.

                  Although Preval has promised to hold elections as quickly as possible, the
                  legislators said new elections must be held before they will vacate their seats.

                  The lawmakers say their terms should not end until October.

                  Most larger businesses in Port-au-Prince were closed on Friday, and there
                  was less street traffic than usual.

                  Police reported no unrest or violence.

                  Radio reports from outside the capital city said the strike call seemed to
                  have had little effect. And for poor and working-class Haitians, even in
                  Port-au-Prince, it was business as usual. Small stores were open and
                  informal markets fanned out across major streets.

                  "What's the strike about?" asked Nikel Louis, slicing honey bread outside a
                  bakery in Pont Rouge, a Port-au-Prince slum.

                  Many people in poor neighborhoods of the capital said the current political
                  crisis was a game between politicians and was not about helping the
                  country's poor majority.

                  "All the politicians in the country are not helping the people, they are just
                  filling their pockets with money," Louis said.

                  But legislators who called the strike said they felt it was necessary to foster
                  democracy in the hemisphere's poorest nation, where U.S. troops ended a
                  military dictatorship only four years ago.

                  "It is a strike to send out a warning about the political situation and against
                  the installation of a de facto regime," Sen. Elie Plancher said by telephone
                  from his home, referring to Preval's decision to install prime
                  minister-designate Jacques Edouard Alexis as the head of government by

                  The battle between Preval and the lawmakers is the latest standoff in a
                  19-month political crisis touched off by the June 1997 resignation of Prime
                  Minister Rosny Smarth.

                  The failure of Preval and parliament to agree on a new prime minister--
                  parliament rejected his first three nominations-- has virtually paralyzed the
                  government and delayed millions of dollars in international aid to Haiti.

                  Jean-Wildes Aristide, who was cutting wooden painting frames in Cite
                  Soleil, Haiti's largest slum, said striking was a luxury poor Haitians could not

                  "If we strike, we can't make money to feed our children," Aristide said. "I
                  grew up here ... grew up surrounded by mud, nothing has ever changed," he
                  said, "but I still believe in democracy."

                  Preval stepped up pressure on defiant lawmakers on Wednesday, ordering
                  their diplomatic passports annulled and telling them to return government

                  He issued the order as legislators said they would take their dispute with the
                  president to the Haitian Supreme Court.

                   Copyright 1999 Reuters.