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Archive for Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Violent rebel uprising spreads to 11 towns in Haiti

February 10, 2004

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— An armed uprising spread Monday to nearly a dozen towns in western and northern Haiti, the strongest challenge yet to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. At least 42 people have been killed in what the government says is an attempted coup.

After sporadic gunbattles, police regained control of the important port city of St. Marc, 45 miles west of Port-au-Prince. At least two men were shot and another was allegedly shot and killed by Aristide supporters. His body was left at the side of the road.

An Aristide supporter was later shot and killed in clashes on a highway near the western city of Grand-Goave, according to witnesses.

In the first visit by a senior government official to any of the 11 affected towns, Prime Minister Yvon Neptune on Monday inspected the charred remains of the St. Marc police station.

Neptune called on Haitians to help restore calm.

"The national police force alone cannot re-establish order," Neptune told The Associated Press. He told state television on Sunday that "the violence is tied to a coup d'etat."

The uprising, which began last week in the city of Gonaives, signals a dangerous turning point in Haiti's longtime political crisis. A similar revolt in 1985 also began in Gonaives and led to the ouster a year later of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and the end of a 29-year family dictatorship.

"We are in a situation of armed popular insurrection," said opposition politician Himler Rebu, who led a failed coup against Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril in 1989. He said Monday he had no part in the current uprising.

Tension has mounted since Aristide's party won flawed legislative elections in 2000 and international donors blocked millions of dollars in aid. Misery has also deepened with most of the nation's 8 million people living without jobs and on less than $1 day despite election promises from Aristide, a former priest who had vowed to bring dignity to the poor.

With no army and fewer than 5,000 poorly armed police, the government is ill-equipped to halt the revolt. Police stations have been a major target because they symbolize Aristide's authority and officers are accused of siding with government supporters in a wave of protests that began in mid-September.

Since capturing Gonaives, a city of 200,000 people, on Thursday, the rebels have spread to towns to the west and north, including the Artibonite valley that is the breadbasket of Haiti.

Aristide won Haiti's first democratic election in 1990 and was then ousted months later by the army. He was restored in a 1994 U.S. invasion, and later disbanded the army.

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