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17870: (Hermantin) Miami-Herald-Aristide scolds armed backers (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Mon, Jan. 12, 2004

Aristide scolds armed backers
Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide chastises armed followers for
shooting at opponents and faults the opposition for blocking elections.

PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has condemned his
armed followers for firing on the opposition but accused his foes of acting
undemocratically by blocking elections for offices whose terms expire today.

''The minute we say yes to the democratic process, we also say yes to the
electoral process,'' Aristide told The Herald in an extensive interview
Friday. ``It's time to have elections. . . . Elections is the best way to
lead the country from where we are in crisis, to economic growth, to a
better future.''

Aristide will be ruling by presidential decree from today because of the
lack of elections to the legislative National Assembly. Members of the
opposition have refused to participate in balloting because of alleged fraud
in the previous round.

As a result, the terms of one-third of the two-chamber assembly expired
today, leaving it without enough legislators to conduct the nation's
business. The Senate has 27 members who serve six-year terms, and the
Chamber of Deputies has 83 members selected to four-year terms.

Although Aristide has recently called for reconciliation and unity, his
opponents say he speaks out of both sides of his mouth, with a message of
compromise tailored for the international community and one of division
pitched at his traditional support base, the poor majority in the Western
Hemisphere's poorest nation.


''All he does is destroy the country, kill and repress people,'' said Evans
Paul, who fought to return Aristide to power after the president was ousted
in a 1991 coup.

Aristide said that in fact he has kept his supporters in line despite the
opposition's actions. ``They should be thanking me, because I don't think
it's very easy to prevent the huge majority to go to violence, but I did.''

Aristide's five-year term ends in 2006, and the 50-year-old former Roman
Catholic priest, toppled in a military coup after his first election and
reinstated by U.S. troops, has vowed to finish his term.

''I have to respect their right to be with me one day or to be against me
the minute they want,'' Aristide said. ``My reference is the Haitian people.
As long as I realize that I am serving the Haitian people and the Haitian
people continue to give me their support, then I feel great.''

He said the opposition, which has been staging protests and labor strikes
aimed at forcing his resignation, is the real polarizing force in the
country. ''On our side, we are the president of every single citizen, rich
and poor, minority [and] the majority,'' he said.

But Aristide's ruling Lavalas Family party has been blamed for much of the
unrest, including the violent disruption of an anti-Aristide march

Armed with guns, knives and clubs, and anything that could be used as a
weapon, roving thugs, some with their faces wrapped in rags and bandannas to
conceal their identities, attacked demonstrators, terrorized bystanders,
shot at police and disrupted the capital, all in the presence of
international observers and foreign journalists. Another protest on Sunday
was more peaceful.

Washington denounced the attacks. ''Although it is clear some elements of
the police worked diligently to protect the demonstrators, it is also clear
that other police officers collaborated with heavily armed, hired gangs to
attack the demonstrators,'' State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Aristide said he immediately condemned the violence on all sides, but added
that the demonstrators were not without blame. He said he was sickened by
television images of demonstrators beating, kicking and stomping on a
government loyalist.


''I condemn what happened, that violence, wherever it came from,'' Aristide
said. ``We have to disarm those who are illegally armed. We can't tolerate
young people with machine guns threatening the lives of people.''

He also said he had asked his minister of justice to look into ways to
prevent a repetition of Wednesday's violence. ''They have to use the law to
prevent things like that from happening,'' he said. ``Hopefully, soon we
will identify those who are responsible.''

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