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28624: (news) Chamberlain: Haiti-Protest (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   PORT-AU-PRINCE, July 15 (AP) -- Thousands of demonstrators demanding the
return of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide marched to Haiti's
National Palace on Saturday, pushing past riot police in a dramatic show of
support for the exiled former leader.
   Chants of "Aristide or death!" and "Aristide's blood is our blood!" rang
out as a crush of demonstrators pressed against a line of national police,
who eventually allowed some 3,000 protesters to fill the street outside the
   The march coincided with Aristide's 53rd birthday and marked the largest
display of support in months for the deposed leader, who fled Haiti in
February 2004 amid a violent uprising and has been living in South Africa.
   Helmeted police wielding batons and riot shields formed a human chain to
keep protesters from approaching the whitewashed National Palace, President
Rene Preval's official residence, which was guarded by dozens of U.N.
peacekeepers in armored cars.
   Police pushed back several protesters but the confrontation did not
escalate to violence. Still, the show of force prompted many to turn back,
fearful of a clash.
   "If there's blood it will be on your hands!" a man yelled at police
before they yielded.
   "We voted for Preval on the condition that he bring back Aristide.
That's the will of the people," said Bruce Pierre Richard, 21.
   Preval, a champion of Haiti's poor who took power in May, has said
Haiti's constitution allows Aristide to return but has not said whether he
would welcome him home. Preval was prime minister under Aristide but the
two grew apart and Preval has said little since his election about his
former political mentor, frustrating Aristide supporters.
   The United States has warned Aristide's return could destabilize the
Caribbean country.
   "The international community doesn't want Aristide to come back, so
they're pressuring Preval to keep him out," said demonstrator Harold
Lafaliese, 40.
   The protest came amid a surge of bloodshed that U.N. officials say is
aimed at undermining Preval's new government.
   Most of the violence is blamed on warring street gangs, including last
week's massacre of 22 civilians in Port-au-Prince's Martissant slum.
Militants in recent days have also spread rumors that Preval had died, cut
telephone lines at Port-au-Prince's international airport and staged other
disturbances to stir unrest, U.N. officials say.
   U.N. officials have doubled patrols in the capital in a bid to crack
down on the gangs, which operate with virtual impunity in Port-au-Prince's
densely populated, maze-like slums.