Mon, Oct 04, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Officials nabbed for encouraging clashes in Haiti

AP , PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI

Police arrested Haiti's Senate president and two other politicians allied with ousted leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide after a six-hour standoff in a radio station, where they insisted they had no involvement in clashes that have left at least 14 dead.

The three politicians surrendered Saturday night and were led out in handcuffs from the offices of Radio Caraibes after a judge entered the building to talk with the men, telling reporters they were being detained on illegal weapons charges.

"They are kidnapping me. They have no reason to arrest me. It is an illegal arrest," Senate president Yvon Feuille said as he was led away. Earlier, while police surrounded the building, he said government authorities "have no right to sacrifice the struggle for peace in Haiti," appealing to Aristide loyalists not to respond with violence.

Afterward heavy gunfire erupted Saturday night in several parts of downtown Port-au-Prince, witnesses said.

At least five men were killed Friday by gunmen outside the home of an anti-Aristide community leader in the seaside slum Village de Dieu, residents said Saturday, bringing the death toll in three days of violence to at least 14.

Police also fired on a peaceful demonstration of Aristide supporters in the Bel Air neighborhood Friday, killing two young men, said Anne Sosin, a human rights monitor of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

The headless bodies of three police officers turned up Friday. They, along with a fourth policeman, were believed killed in clashes Thursday in Port-au-Prince, police said.

Human rights activist Jean-Claude Bajeux said Aristide loyalists are waging "an urban guerrilla operation" that they have dubbed "Operation Baghdad."

"The decapitations are imitative of those in Iraq, and they are meant to show the failure of US policy in Haiti," he said.

Aristide, now in exile in South Africa, has accused US agents of ousting him from the presidency on Feb. 29 amid a bloody rebellion -- a charge the US government denies.

Aristide's Lavalas Family party on Thursday began three days of commemoration of the 1991 coup that toppled Aristide's first government. They demanded an end to "the occupation" and "the invasion" by foreign troops -- referring to the US-led force that followed Aristide's ouster and the UN peacekeepers who have taken over since June.

Pro-Aristide officials said their demonstrations were peaceful and blamed the violence on the interim government and anti-Aristide infiltrators.

Most streets vendors in Port-au-Prince stayed home Saturday after sporadic gunfire rang out before dawn in Bel Air and the La Saline slum, and some people threw rocks at cars, witnesses said.

The three politicians became holed up inside Radio Caraibes' offices after appearing on the air Saturday, when more than a dozen armed police surrounded the building.

Feuille was detained along with former Senator Gerard Gilles and Roudy Herivaux, a former member of the Chamber of Deputies. They denied involvement in any crime. Feuille said police told him they found weapons in a car outside owned by one of the three, but he denied the car belonged to any of them.

"We are being held hostage. If the international community accepts this, we don't know what will happen," Gilles said.

Earlier Saturday, another Lavalas official, former Chamber of Deputies member Joseph Axene, was arrested outside the station for an unknown offense, the Haitian broadcaster Radio Megastar reported.

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