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28625: (news) Chamberlain: Thousands march for exiled Aristide in Haiti (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Joseph Guyler Delva

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, July 15 (Reuters) - Thousands of supporters of
exiled former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide took to the
capital's streets on Saturday to call for his return and demand political
prisoners be freed.
     The protest in Port-au-Prince, which witnesses said included about
30,000 people, was largely peaceful apart from a brief standoff with U.N.
peacekeepers and riot police.
     It was held on the 53rd birthday of Aristide, who is living in South
Africa. Protesters danced to drums, chanted "Aristide is king" and sang
happy birthday to the exiled leader.
     "We want Aristide back because he is Haitian, not South African," said
Jean Woody Pierre-Paul, a spokesman for the marchers.
     The demonstrators called on newly elected President Rene Preval, a
one-time ally of Aristide's, to free all political prisoners jailed under
the previous interim administration of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue.
     Latortue's unelected, U.S.-backed administration took over after
Aristide fled an armed revolt in 2004. Preval in February became the
impoverished and unstable Caribbean country's first elected leader since
     The crowd, mainly from the slums where Aristide and Preval drew most
of their support, also called for public employees fired en masse by the
Latortue government to be given back their jobs.
     The United States, which exerts enormous influence in Haiti, has
warned Preval that Aristide's return would destabilize Haiti.
     A champion of the country's poor masses, the former Roman Catholic
priest is deeply mistrusted by its wealthy elite and by conservatives in
     The protesters almost clashed with police and U.N. peacekeepers when
they were barred from approaching the presidential palace.
     Most scattered when Haitian security forces pulled their guns and
threatened to shoot. But several thousand protesters managed to force their
way through.
     "I can't believe that under Preval the population can be barred from
demonstrating in front of the presidential palace," said Josias Mathurin, a
protester. "We spent two years fighting the interim government to regain
this right," he said.