Eleven Reported Dead In Two Towns; Opposition Rally Fizzles
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Eleven people were killed Friday in two towns during anti-government demonstrations demanding the resignation of the provisional junta, the official government television reported.
Radio Haiti Inter, however, reported that the fighting was between Tonton Macoutes, members of a disbanded special police force, and a rival peasant group. The radio also reported that the death toll may be higher than that reported by the government.
Ten people died in the northwestern town of Jean Rabel when protesters, angry that the victims opposed the demonstrations, set fire to their homes and businesses, according to the television report.
In southwestern Les Cayes, one person was killed after soldiers fired into the air to end a demonstration, the television report said.
Further details were not immediately available.
In the capital, an anti-government demonstration fizzled Friday hours after the junta issued a decree restricting public gatherings.
About 100 people showed up at Radio Soleil, the Roman Catholic Church station, and quietly dispersed when no one arrived.
The demonstration was called by the National Federation of Unemployed Patriots of Haiti and the Association of Moderate Patriotic Youth, two obscure groups.
The decree was promulgated on national television Thursday night. It bans rallies of more than 20 people when organizers fail to notify police at least 48 hours in advance, and it holds organizers responsible for participants’ behavior.
Jail terms of three months to two years can be meted out to people who chant ″provocative″ slogans or carry posters the government deems to advocate violence, according to the decree.
It was issued after a plainclothes policeman shot into a crowd of 2,000 at the end of a what witnesses said was a peaceful anti-government demonstration Thursday. It was the fourth rally this week.
A woman identified by Radio Haiti Inter as Edeline Noel died from injuries suffered in the incident. Seven people were treated for gunshot wounds at State University Hospital, a hospital spokesman said.
Bystanders identified the plaintclothes policeman, who fled into a nearby police station, as Henri Toussaint. After an angry mob looted Toussaint’s home, police officials confirmed that it was he who had shot at the crowd, Radio Haiti Inter reported.
Haiti is in the midst of a political crisis brought on by junta decrees that tried to take control of elections away from an independent council and banned a labor union. Both measures were revoked, but not before violent demonstrations left 21 dead and more than 100 injured, not counting the Friday casualties.
The provisional junta, led by Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, took power 17 months ago, following dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier’s flight to exile. It plans to hand over power next February to the winner of national elections scheduled for November.
Opposition groups are still demanding the civilian-military junta resign.
Pierre Robert Auguste, the second-highest official at the Ministry of Information, said in a radio interview Friday that Haiti’s political unrest is due in part to ″the divorce between the government and public opinion.″
During the interview on Radio Metropole, Auguste was asked whether he thought the recent incidents where soldiers have shot at reporters covering rallies resembled acts under the Duvalier regime.
″There seems to be a certain similarity, but I don’t think it is something systematic. Being close to certain members of the government, I can affirm their predisposition to respect the constitution,″ Auguste said.
On Wednesday, soldiers fired their guns at a group of about 10 reporters covering a demonstration at city hall.
It was the fourth time in the past month that soldiers have fired on reporters. Two local reporters have been wounded.
Jean-Max Blanc, a reporter for Radio Metropole and the Creole-language stringer for Voice of America, was released from jail Friday after being arrested Wednesday and accompanied back to the radio station by about 20 colleagues honking car horns. Blanc said he was beaten with a billy stick and rifle butt during his detention.
The National Committee of the Democratic Forces Congress, the largest group in the 57-organization coalition that called general strikes earlier this month, said in a communique read over radio stations Friday, ″The government isn’t crazy. They know exactly what they’re doing.″
″For (Namphy), journalists and democrats are the enemies ... This is not a battle between the people and the army, it’s not a battle between rich and poor. It’s a battle between democrats and a fascist dictatorship,″ the statement said.