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17790: (Chamberlain) Haiti-Protests (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 8 (AP) -- Government opponents launched a two-day
strike that shut down most businesses in the capital Thursday, the latest
in a series of sometimes-violence protests in the Caribbean nation.
   In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was "very
disturbed" about the deteriorating situation in Haiti.
   Powell spoke a day after the latest protest left three dead and more
than two dozen injured. Since mid-September, at least 45 have been killed
and more than 100 wounded during demonstrations.
   Tensions have been rising since Aristide's party won 2000 legislative
elections that observers said were flawed. The opposition refuses to
participate in new elections unless Aristide steps down, but he says he
will serve out his term until 2006.
   Traffic dwindled in Port-au-Prince, meanwhile, as most shops, banks and
gas stations were shuttered in the strike. But government offices remained
open, buses kept running and vendors were out in the streets.
   "Strikes aren't for us poor people. The majority voted for (President
Jean-Bertrand) Aristide and want him to finish his term," said Jean Oriol,
34, a market vendor selling used clothes.
   In his comments, Powell encouraged Aristide and the opposition to
considering a proposal by Haitian religious leaders for easing the
political impasse.
   Under the plan, made in November by Haiti's Catholic Bishops Conference,
the Parliament would be replaced by an interim governing council, with nine
members drawn from the Supreme Court, political parties and civil society
   Aristide has backed the idea. But opposition parties and civil groups
have opposed it, saying Aristide must step down.
   Powell said the bishops' proposal would "bring some order to the
political process and provide a constitutional way forward so that the
people of Haiti can express their will."