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Haiti Seeks to Prevent Clash at Rival Marches

The national police chief bans personal weapons and asks U.S.-led forces to help keep the peace.

March 07, 2004|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — National Police Chief Leon Charles banned the possession of personal weapons Saturday and appealed to the U.S.-led multinational forces here to help provide security during competing marches today to mark the departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide a week ago.

The show of unity called for by the Democratic Platform, an alliance of political and social groups that fought for years to remove Aristide, has provoked the former president's supporters to announce a counter-march. That has stirred fears of a repeat of the bloody confrontations that marked demonstrations when Aristide was in power.

"No one except police officers are allowed to have weapons from now on," Charles, who was appointed Thursday to resurrect the demoralized law enforcement body, told Radio Kiskeya. "We need to recover the confidence of the people so that we can protect them."

Charles went to the U.S. Marines' headquarters at the Port-au-Prince airport Saturday to ask for a strong presence of the multinational security force.

"We're here to support the Haitian National Police. If they want us to provide security and stability, we're here to do that," said Maj. Richard Crusan, a spokesman for the U.S. contingent of the 2,000-member force that also includes French, Canadians and Chileans.

Crusan said he was "very concerned for the safety and well-being" of Haitians taking to the streets in political demonstrations and encouraged the groups to register their plans with the police so appropriate security could be provided.

In a phone interview, Charles said the Democratic Platform had informed authorities of its planned five-mile procession from Place St. Pierre in Petionville to the National Palace. But the new police chief, a former Coast Guard official, said he had no such notification from any of the pro-Aristide organizations that told journalists they would demonstrate to vent their anger over his departure.

The groups, mainly composed of jobless street toughs, were created and armed by Aristide's Lavalas Party over the last four years to menace opposition political events. Called chimeres, Creole for mythical monsters, they swarmed into action more than a week ago, ransacking and burning homes and businesses of Aristide's opponents as rebel forces approached the capital city. One chimere, calling himself Nazi Dreads, of the pro-Aristide King Rasta Operation for Peace, said his gang would converge with others from the downtown slums to prevent the Platform marchers from reaching the palace.

"Lavalas is still in power, and we can do what we want," he said.

Technically, Aristide's party remains in power despite his Feb. 29 departure to the Central African Republic. But interim President Boniface Alexandre and a seven-member Council of Sages named Friday plan to name a prime minister by Tuesday and a Cabinet by Saturday. They will run the country until presidential and parliamentary elections can be held, which might take as long as two years.

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