Sun, Mar 07, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Aristide supporters march to protest Haiti's `occupation'

REUTERS , PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI

Thousands of furious supporters of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide poured out of Haiti's slums and into the streets on Friday, marching on the US Embassy to denounce the "occupation" of their homeland and demand Aristide's return.

The formation of a new government moved ahead with the appointment of a council of seven "wise men" charged with picking a prime minister, while the estimate of the death toll after a month-long revolt soared to well over 200.

A crowd estimated at more than 10,000 materialized suddenly in Port-au-Prince, seething at Aristide's flight to Africa five days ago, hurling slurs at US Marines and calling President George W. Bush a "terrorist."

Hundreds held up their hands, with fingers extended, shouting "Aristide five years," the rallying cry of those who wanted him to finish his term. Heavily armed US troops watched from the embassy rooftop as the crowd marched past.

"Bush terrorist! Bush terrorist!," they chanted, waving Haitian flags or T-shirts bearing photos of Aristide.

Supporters of Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest whose fiery oratory from the pulpit helped galvanize a popular revolt that dislodged the Duvalier family dictatorship in the 1980s, had been relatively quiet this week, stunned by his departure.

They had stayed largely in Cite Soleil, La Saline and other teeming Port-au-Prince slums as the armed rebels who helped push their hero from office roamed the streets, hunting for Aristide's armed "chimere" supporters.

Amid reports of reprisal killings, the Pan American Health Organization said the morgue at the main hospital in Port-au-Prince had accumulated nearly 200 bodies since the outbreak of the revolt on Feb. 5.

But that was just in the capital, and the death toll nationwide would be far higher than estimates of around 100 generally accepted to date.

As the armed rebels withdrew from the capital after a pledge from their leader, former police chief Guy Philippe, to lay down their guns, Aristide partisans vowed to demonstrate daily for his return.

They blamed a wealthy elite, Bush and French President Jacques Chirac for what they called the "foreign occupation."

"The bourgeoisie joined with the international community to occupy Haiti and get rid of President Aristide," a demonstrator screamed. "The bourgeoisie never did anything for us, the masses. Now they took away our president."

Five days after Aristide was ousted by the bloody rebellion and foreign pressure, a seven-member "Council of Wise Men" was named to start building a new government. At least four of the seven are aligned with Aristide's political opposition.

Haitian and foreign officials have been struggling to install interim president Boniface Alexandre, who according to the constitution must be ratified by the legislature. No one could say when a formal ceremony would be held at the palace.

Haiti's legislature has been largely defunct since early January.

US, French, Chilean and Canadian troops in Haiti numbered 2,000, according to commanders of the UN-approved force.

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