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Opposition Partisans Rally in Haiti

March 23, 2002

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Shouting ``Down with Aristide,″ nearly 1,000 supporters of Haiti’s embattled opposition rallied at the ruins of their headquarters Friday to proclaim their right to political freedom.

``Our program is moral resistance,″ opposition leader Gerard Gourgue told his partisans, gathered under heavy police protection in the courtyard of Convergence headquarters, burned down Dec. 17 by supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In protest of May 2000 legislative elections that were swept by Aristide’s Lavalas Family party, the 15-member Convergence opposition alliance appointed Gourgue to head the opposition alliance.

Hopes for an agreement on new elections between the governing party and opposition were dashed after Dec. 17 when gunmen raided the National Palace and remained inside for seven hours before fleeing. No officials were injured, but 10 people were killed in the subsequent violence.

Aristide said the palace attack was an attempt to assassinate him. The opposition charges the attack was a pretext to clamp down on dissent.

After the palace attack, rampaging Aristide street partisans torched the midtown Convergence headquarters as well as several other opposition offices and private residences of its leaders.

Aristide partisans threatened more than a dozen journalists, and 15 fled Haiti in fear for their lives.

This year, about 15 cases of harassment of journalists by pro-Aristide activists and government officials have been reported, said Guyler Delva, secretary-general of the Haitian Association of Journalists.

``The authorities have done nothing to bring the attackers of press freedom to justice,″ said Delva, in an interview.

About 20 opposition partisans have been jailed and are awaiting trial on charges ranging from kidnapping to attempted murder, said opposition leader Evans Paul.

The opposition has turned down a government offer to resume talks, saying an agreement is unthinkable until a peaceful climate has been re-established, its partisans are released, and the perpetrators of the Dec. 17 attacks brought to justice.

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