Failed Bid to Topple President of Haiti Kills 7, Sparks Riots
Aristide Loyalists Set Buildings on Fire
From News Services
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Dec. 17 -- In an attempted coup, gunmen stormed
the National Palace early today and killed six people, including two police
before police recaptured the building and killed one of the gunmen. Government supporters retaliated by burning down the homes and offices of opposition leaders.
Hundreds of supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, wielding
machetes and sticks, surrounded the National Palace after the attack, shouting,
accept another coup d'etat." Flaming tire barricades burned on several corners in the capital.
Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who is Haiti's first democratically
elected president, and his wife were unharmed in their home in Tabarre,
about three miles
from the palace, said spokesman Jacques Maurice. The president went to the palace hours after the assault and, in a speech broadcast to the nation, asked Haitians
to be vigilant.
"We have thwarted the coup," Aristide said. He added: "It is time to
be patriots; the nation is in danger. I thank the population and the police
Officials said that 33 armed gunmen stormed the palace before dawn.
The attackers were dressed in military uniforms, said the chief of palace
security, Oriel Jean
There was no official word on the affiliation of the gunmen, but suspicion
fell on members of the army, which was disbanded after a U.S. intervention
in 1994 that
restored Aristide to power following his ousting in an earlier coup.
The attack took place against a background of growing unrest in the
impoverished country of 7 million, which has a history of political violence
but has been relatively
stable under Aristide's rule.
However, anti-government sentiment has been rising, a dispute with the
opposition has held up desperately needed international aid, and rumors
of a possible coup
have been swirling.
Aristide was first elected president in 1990 and stayed in power only
eight months before the army ousted him in a coup that began on Sept. 30,
1991. He was
restored to power in 1994 by U.S. troops, but a term limit forced him to step down in 1996. He began a second term in February after winning a disputed election in
In apparent retribution for the palace attack, Aristide supporters torched
the headquarters of the Convergence opposition alliance in the capital
as well as the
headquarters of three alliance groups. Aristide supporters also burned down the home of opposition leader Luc Mesadieu in northern Gonaives. There were no
They also ransacked the French Institute, a cultural center in Port-au-Prince
run by the French government. Aristide has accused foreign governments
terrorism" because they suspended aid when questions were raised about the integrity of last year's elections. France is among the donors that have suspended aid.
Before attacking the National Palace, the gunmen attempted to attack
the national penitentiary, but they were repelled. The gunmen then moved
on to the palace,
lobbing a grenade at the building at about 2 a.m., then opening fire as they entered, Maurice said.
A pickup truck, apparently carrying some of the gunmen, sped out of
the palace grounds and escaped, national radio reported. The men in the
truck shot and killed
two passersby as they fled, witnesses said.
A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the
attackers identified their leader as the former police chief of northern
Cap-Haitien city, Guy
Philippe, who fled to neighboring Dominican Republic last year with seven police officers accused of plotting a coup. Philippe called the Associated Press from the
Dominican Republic to deny involvement in the attack.
The violence prompted the U.S. Embassy to close its doors and to urge Americans in Haiti to stay home. Airlines canceled flights to the island.