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Haiti protests draw musicians, artists
( 2003-12-24 14:34) (Agencies)

Some of Haiti's most famous musicians on Tuesday held a free concert calling for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's resignation while artists painted rainbows over pro-government graffiti.

The coalition of more than 1,000 musicians, painters and writers organized the demonstration at the University of Haiti to show solidarity with students who were attacked by Aristide partisans earlier this month.

Police officers talk as thousands of anti-government demonstrators march in Port au Prince, Haiti, Monday Dec.22, 2003. Thousands of anti-government demonstrators marched calling for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's resignation.  [AP]
Roots band Boukman Eksperyans, one of Haiti's most popular music exports, performed songs calling for revolution.

"Aristide is already fired, no one wants him," said Boukman's lead singer Barnaby Theodore Beaubrum, an Aristide critic. "We will continue the resistance until Aristide is no longer in power."

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has been in turmoil since Aristide's Lavalas Family party swept flawed 2000 elections. Since mid-September, at least 23 people have been killed during anti-government demonstrations.

"When I was a student here 20 years ago I used to sing against the dictatorship," said Sweet Mickey singer Michel Martelly, referring to Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier. "Twenty years later nothing's changed."

Aristide's government is facing growing unrest as it prepares for its bicentennial celebrating 200 years of independence Jan. 1 from a slave-holding France. Government supporters say the steady protests are meant to spoil government-sanctioned festivities.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who comes from the world's youngest black republic, was scheduled to attend the bicentennial but as of Monday, only one delegate from the Caribbean's regional bloc had said she was coming for the celebrations.

Lolita Applewhaite, deputy secretary general of the 15-member Caribbean Community, said she would attend but no others had confirmed a significant blow to the world's oldest black republic.

In contrast, 13 of the 15 Caribbean leaders flew to Cuba last year for a special summit celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations between the communist island and other nations in the region.

Many have voiced concern over an allegation that the government has tried to repress anti-government demonstrations by using the police to break them up, or by allowing Aristide supporters to use strong-arm tactics against opponents.

On Dec. 5, at least two dozen people were injured in violence that broke out after police separated dozens of government supporters from about 100 students who called a protest to demand Aristide resign.

University Rector Pierre-Marie Pacquiot was beaten in both legs with an iron bar and at least four students were shot. The attack is under investigation.

Aristide was ousted in a 1991 coup and restored to power in a 1994 U.S. occupation. He stepped down in 1996 due to a term limit and was re-elected in 2000. He has refused opposition calls to step down, saying he will serve out his term until 2006.

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