Mon, Jan 03, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Tensions linger as Haiti marks independence day

FRUSTRATED The interim president called for an end to divisions and hatred, while protesters demanded more aid, as hundreds are still homeless after severe flooding in September


Interim Haitian President Boniface Alexandre, left, and Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue listen to the national anthem during the celebration of the 201st anniversary of Haiti's independence in Gonaives, Haiti on Saturday.


Haiti's leaders marked the 201st anniversary of independence on Saturday while protesters demanded more help in this flood-ravaged city where political tensions still linger since a revolt ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Interim President Boniface Alexandre urged Haitians to help pave the way for "free, honest, transparent and democratic elections" this year, addressing a restless crowd of about 200 in the northern city of Gonaives where the country's declaration of independence from slave-holding France was signed Jan. 1, 1804.

"Haiti had 200 years of suffering, division and hatred," Alexandre said from a balcony in the city hall. "In 2005, we must not make our ancestors ashamed. We must all understand the problem is in us."

Earlier, Alexandre and interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue listened to a church sermon while protesters outside the cathedral demanded that the US-backed interim government fulfill promises made in October to rebuild the battered city.

The crowed heckled Gonaives Mayor Calixte Valentin when he introduced Alexandre and other speakers, shouting "get out!" before settling down to listen to the interim president. Valentin later told The Associated Press he was considering resigning, saying he was frustrated about not having enough funds to meet people's demands. He didn't elaborate.

Hundreds are still homeless from September floods that killed at least 2,000 people and left another 900 missing and presumed dead. Piles of dried mud still block roads, agriculture is in ruins and half the city's schools have yet to reopen.

"We're tired of the lies," said Barthelemy Dieu-Fils, a teacher. "They said there's money coming, but we don't see any money ... We can't live like this."

Last year, bloody clashes between police and protesters in Gonaives and the capital of Port-au-Prince ruined Aristide's lavish bicentennial tribute to Haiti's independence as the world's first black republic.

South African President Thabo Mbeki was among the few dignitaries who didn't cancel his appearance but left Gonaives prematurely amid security threats.

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