Thousands protest against Haitian leader
CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti (AP) -- In the largest public demonstration against
Aristide since his election two years ago, thousands marched peacefully Sunday, calling for an
alternative to his allegedly antidemocratic government.
"We're hungry! Aristide must go!" chanted the boisterous crowd of tens
of thousands, including
business leaders and politicians, workers and unemployed. Local radio st ations reported up to
Under heavy police protection, the protesters marched 2 miles (3 kilometers)
Cap-Haitien to Vertieres, where on November 18, 1803, an indigenous army defeated French
colonial forces after 11 years of bloody struggle for emancipation from centuries of slavery.
On January 1, 2004, Haiti will celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of its independence.
Sunday's march, endorsed by opposition parties, culminated a series of
activities under Unity
Weekend, organized by the nonpartisan Citizens Initiative in an effort to simultaneously "reflect
on our history and social and economic situation," spokesman Frandley Denis Julien said.
"Our government is despotic, corrupt and incompetent, and we want to create
a core of civil
society resistance," Julien said, denying the government's allegations that his nonviolent group
"To demonstrate is a basic civil liberty, and it has to be respected. All
classes of people are
unhappy with the situation and want it to change," said Marc Georges, president of the North
district Chamber of Commerce, who participated in the march.
Sunday's march came two days before Aristide's government must prove it
has established a
secure environment for future elections, according to a deadline set by five civil society
The institutions said that, without guarantees of security, they will not
representatives to a nine-member electoral council to organize next year's ballot.
Haiti's government and opposition parties have been in a stalemate since
flawed May 2000
balloting gave most victories to governing party candidates.
The opposition charged the vote was rigged, and the failure to agree on
new elections has
held up hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid.
Haiti's economy in the meantime has foundered, poverty deepened, and the
government is in
the midst of an unprecedented crisis of confidence.
The Organization of American States has urged donors to release the frozen
aid, but also had
given the government until November 4 to set up the new electoral council -- a deadline Haiti
missed because civil society institutions and the opposition demanded more security
guarantees before they participated.
In a November 11 predawn attack, unidentified men in military camouflage
shot at the
Cap-Haitien police station. There were no reported injuries or arrests.
"It was an event badly staged to prevent the march from taking place," Julien said.
Government officials suggested the alleged attack was linked to Citizens
Initiative, which the
On Wednesday, Moise Jean-Charles, the pro-Aristide mayor of the North district
town of Milot,
called on Aristide "sympathizers to rise and defend themselves" against the allegedly
subversive Citizens Initiative movement.
The weekend was calm, but Friday morning Aristide grass-roots street activists
tire barricades around town to protest the planned activities.
"The government is in a panic, afraid of people who are demanding accountability.
It wants to
prevent free thought and discussion," said former army officer Himmler Rebu, who participated
in the march.
In the capital last month, "a commando was sent to eliminate me physically,"
said Rebu, "a
concerned citizen, with no political party affiliation," who has written newspaper articles
critical of the government.
On Saturday, a Catholic parochial school and a nightclub owner, citing
reneged on their promise to house an all-day symposium.
Instead, tents were pitched, amplifiers set up, and several thousand Haitians
from all over the
Caribbean country stood in a blocked-off street listening for two hours to the speeches by
intellectuals and opposition politicians. No incidents were reported.
Police were instructed to ensure the security, and no governing party "counter
has been planned," said Aristide's private Cabinet head Jean-Claude Desranges on Friday.
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.