PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Thousands of Haitians gathered in front of the government palace Tuesday and cheered when demonstrators called for the fall of the military-led junta.
It was the first mass demonstration in the capital since an on-and-off general strike against the government began June 29.
"Down with the CNG!" hundreds of demonstrators chanted, referring to the National Government Council, which is headed by Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy.
The general strike showed signs of weakening as shops opened in the northern city of Cap Haitien. Organizers announced that the strike will be suspended today, but they did not make it clear whether the strike will be resumed later in the week. Peaceful demonstrations were scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
The strike had been suspended on three earlier occasions, last Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, only to be resumed after "resupplying."
Despite large anti-government demonstrations Tuesday, no violence was reported. Last week, some protests turned violent and security forces opened fire. At least 22 people were killed, and more than 100 others were wounded.
The crisis has raised the question of whether the provisional government will go the way of President Jean-Claude Duvalier, who fled into exile in France 17 months ago after a series of protests.
The three-member National Government Council is dominated by Namphy and Brig. Gen. Williams Regala. Both were high military officials in the Duvalier dictatorship.
Elections are scheduled for November to replace the CNG with a president and a congress, but many Haitians want the CNG replaced before then.
Two weeks ago, 21 youths issued a statement vowing to burn themselves to death July 7 to protest a government decree that took control over elections away from the independent Provisional Electoral Council. The decree was rescinded in a concession to the general strike movement.
Early Tuesday, the day of the threatened suicides, crowds gathered on the sidewalks and parkways of the Champs de Mars, in front of the white government palace.
"I came to see the people who are going to burn themselves," Fequiere Enderson, a high school teacher, told a reporter.
There were no suicides. As the crowd grew, soldiers were deployed around the palace grounds, behind a fence of green iron grillwork. At one point, a platoon of soldiers in olive drab paraded across the lawn between the fence and the palace. A mock battalion of civilian demonstrators quickly formed outside the fence and, mimicking the soldiers, marched with upraised arms, shouting in the Haitian patois: "Down with Regala, down with Namphy, down with the CNG!"
The crowd applauded, whistled and cheered, and this apparently encouraged the demonstrators to continue. They marched to a nearby park and tore branches from trees, then jogged back to the palace waving them above their heads. Since the anti-Duvalier protests of 1985, leafy branches have symbolized the idea of uprooting unpopular rulers.
As the demonstrators moved out and marched around the downtown area, a young man who identified himself as Joseph Solomon told a reporter: "Today is the last day for this government. They must go."
But organizers of the strike movement were said to be negotiating a compromise settlement with the CNG through diplomatic channels. It was not clear what kind of settlement might be acceptable to both sides, but a leading politician, Leslie Manigat, proposed that the CNG be enlarged so that it would have a civilian majority.
Another politician, Marc Bazin, was skeptical.
"There are 10,000 people thinking of 10,000 plans," he said, "but none of them amounts to anything yet."