From AP, July 15:
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Thousands of demonstrators demanding the return of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide marched to Haiti’s National Palace on Saturday, pushing past riot police in a dramatic show of support for the exiled former leader.
Chants of “Aristide or death!” and “Aristide’s blood is our blood!” rang out as a crush of demonstrators pressed against a line of national police, who eventually allowed some 3,000 protesters to fill the street outside the palace.
The march coincided with Aristide’s 53rd birthday and marked the largest display of support in months for the deposed leader, who fled Haiti in February 2004 amid a violent uprising and has been living in South Africa.
Helmeted police wielding batons and riot shields formed a human chain to keep protesters from approaching the whitewashed National Palace, President Rene Preval’s official residence, which was guarded by dozens of U.N. peacekeepers in armored cars.
Police pushed back several protesters but the confrontation did not escalate to violence. Still, the show of force prompted many to turn back, fearful of a clash.
“If there’s blood it will be on your hands!” a man yelled at police before they yielded.
“We voted for Preval on the condition that he bring back Aristide. That’s the will of the people,” said Bruce Pierre Richard, 21.
Preval, a champion of Haiti’s poor who took power in May, has said Haiti’s constitution allows Aristide to return but has not said whether he would welcome him home. Preval was prime minister under Aristide but the two grew apart and Preval has said little since his election about his former political mentor, frustrating Aristide supporters.
The United States has warned Aristide’s return could destabilize the Caribbean country.
“The international community doesn’t want Aristide to come back, so they’re pressuring Preval to keep him out,” said demonstrator Harold Lafaliese, 40.
The protest came amid a surge of bloodshed that U.N. officials say is aimed at undermining Preval’s new government.
Bloodshed which is receiving little media coverage outside Haiti. From the Haitian news agency AHP, July 7:
Port-au-Prince, July 7, 2006 (AHP); Some 20 people were killed and several others injured by gunfire and stabbing over the past 72 hours during attacks launched by armed men belonging to the so-called “Ti Manchèt Army” (Small Machete Army) in the populist districts of Grand’Ravine and Ti Bwa in southern Port-au-Prince.
Several homes were also set on fire.
According to residents who were fleeing the region this Friday, the men of the Ti Manchèt Army began their killing spree after they accused residents of Grand’Ravine of having killed a member of their band.
This is the very same Ti Manchèt Army formed under the interim regime of Gérard Latortue that carried out a massacre of more than 10 people who were attending a soccer game sponsored by USAID in August 2005 in the populist quarter of Grand’ Ravine.
These individuals, who operated in several populist neighborhoods side by side with officers of the Haitian National Police, had accused the victims of the massacre at that time of being supporters of the President-in-Exile, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
See our last post on Haiti.