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17327: (Hermantin) SunSentinel-Haitian stores, teachers strike to protest lack of free (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Haitian stores, teachers strike to protest lack of free assembly

By Michael Norton
The Associated Press
Posted November 18 2003

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti  Most stores closed and many teachers skipped class
in Haiti's capital Monday in a strike called three days after rock-throwing
supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide broke up a rally by
government opponents.

Drug stores, banks, bakeries and gas stations closed in Port-au-Prince, and
many children hiked home after their teachers did not arrive.

But market vendors were working, and buses were running as usual.

A coalition of 184 civil groups called the one-day general strike, saying it
wanted to send a message that government opponents should be able to
assemble freely.

On Friday, Aristide supporters penned coalition members into the corner of a
square where they had gathered to present proposed government reforms.

The larger crowd of government backers threw rocks, and police dispersed the
crowds with tear gas. No Aristide supporters were arrested, but police
detained 25 members of civil groups for questioning.

Coalition leader Andy Apaid Jr. called them "political prisoners" and
criticized the police response.

But government spokesman Mario Dupuy called the rally a provocation and
accused the groups of "implementing a plan to destabilize the government."

Monday's strike was intended as a nationwide protest. In Cap-Haitien, the
second-largest city, banks and large businesses closed, but other businesses
remained open.

"No one heard anything about the strike. Times are hard, and I don't know
what I would have done if I had heard," said Jean Toussaint, 25, who owns an
auto parts store.

Tensions in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, have increased
since 2000 legislative elections the opposition charged were rigged.

In recent months, clashes during anti-government protests left more than a
dozen people dead and scores wounded.

The opposition refuses to participate in legislative elections proposed for
this year and demands that Aristide resign.

The coalition has not demanded Aristide resign but has criticized his
responses to violence and poverty.

"The country is heading toward the edge of a cliff. We have to keep it from
falling off," Apaid said.

Aristide vows to serve until his term ends in 2006.      Email story
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Copyright  2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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