More than 1,000 Haitians protest Aristide
Defying government loyalists, more than 1,000 protesters demonstrated against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Sunday as exiled paramilitary forces joined rebels in a bloody uprising that has killed about 50 people.
Shouting "Down with Aristide!" members of a broad opposition alliance known as the Democratic Platform marched through Port-au-Prince, saying they did not support violence but shared the same goal as the rebels — ousting the embattled president.
"We're still dealing with pacific, nonviolent means, but let me tell you, we have one goal," said Gilbert Leger, a lawyer and opposition member. "We do support (rebel) efforts."
After a peaceful march, demonstrators ended the protest about a quarter of the way through when police told them they would have to change the route because of security concerns.
Militants loyal to Aristide crushed a similar anti-government demonstration Thursday, stoning opponents and blocking the protest route. The government said between seven and a dozen attackers have been arrested, but a foreign technical adviser to the police said there have been no arrests.
Haiti has been wracked by violence since Feb. 5, when armed rebels seeking to oust Aristide launched a rebellion in Gonaives, 70 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince and Haiti's fourth-largest city. The rebels have fortified Gonaives with flaming barricades, rusted cars and discarded refrigerators.
Although the rebels are still believed to number less than Haiti's 5,000-member police force, paramilitary leaders and police living in exile in the Dominican Republic have reportedly joined them.
On Friday, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged Aristide to "reach out to the opposition, to make sure that thugs are not allowed to break up peaceful demonstrations."
Discontent has grown in this Caribbean country of 8 million people since Aristide's party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000 and international donors froze millions of dollars.
However, Powell said Friday the United States and other nations "will accept no outcome that ... attempts to remove the elected president of Haiti."
The United States sent 20,000 troops to Haiti in 1994 to end a bloody military dictatorship, restore Aristide and halt an exodus of refugees to Florida.
Washington says it plans no new military intervention.
Two Dominican soldiers were killed on the Dominican border at Dajabon on Saturday and their weapons were taken from them. It was unclear who was responsible for the killings, but in recent days a force of 20 men led by exiled paramilitary leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain crossed the border.
Dominican President Hipolito Mejia said Sunday that authorities would arrest any Haitian suspected of taking part in the uprising who tries to enter the Dominican Republic.
Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a former Haitian soldier who headed army death squads in 1987 and a militia known as the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH, which killed and maimed hundreds of people between 1991 and 1994, was seen in Gonaives by several witnesses.
Chamblain fled to the Dominican Republic after U.S. troops were sent to restore Aristide to power and end a bloody dictatorship in 1994.
Also spotted was Guy Philippe, a former police chief who fled to the Dominican Republic after being accused by the Haitian government of trying to organize a coup in 2002.
In a video obtained by Associated Press Television News, Philippe was seen laughing and surrounded by a handful of rebels in Gonaives on Saturday. Philippe, 35, said he came back to fight for the people and has no political aspirations.
"We are fighting for the presidency, we're fighting for the people, for our convictions," Philippe said, adding that the rebels have many weapons.
He said he does not believe it is in America's interests to pursue another intervention.
"We don't want to fight with them."
Dominican Gen. Fernando Cruz Mendez said Philippe would be arrested if he tried to re-enter the Dominican Republic.
In May, Haiti's foreign minister visited the Dominican Republic requesting that authorities turn over Philippe. Dominican officials detained him earlier that month but released him after finding no evidence to support claims he was plotting against Haiti's government. No extradition treaty exists between the neighboring countries.
While there has been no reported rise in the number of Haitians leaving for the United States, Aristide's wife — U.S.-born Mildred Trouillot Aristide — reportedly flew to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., over the weekend. Presidential spokeswoman Michelle Karshan said the first lady left to attend a funeral and would return Monday.