Aristide's angry words set off street violence in Haiti 7 killed in past week

outburst shocks diplomats


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- With an emotional outburst at the funeral of a slain relative a week ago, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide set off an outbreak of street violence, provoked panic among Haiti's elite, and undermined his relations with the United States and other members of the international coalition that restored him to power a year ago.

At least seven people have been killed and more than a score wounded in the unrest that erupted after Mr. Aristide urged his followers Nov. 11 to "go to the neighborhoods where there are big houses and heavy weapons" to help the police disarm "the big men with heavy weapons" and other suspected wrongdoers.

Since then, dozens of homes of suspected Aristide opponents have been burned or looted, a radio station critical of the president has been attacked, and vigilante squads have erected roadblocks.

Mr. Aristide's tirade also included sharp criticism of what he described as the failure of the United Nations mission in Haiti to disarm members of hostile paramilitary groups. Foreign officials who have been working closely with the Aristide government to build democracy after nearly three decades of dictatorship described themselves as shocked and even betrayed by the president's unexpected behavior.

"He wanted to flex some muscle and take aim at an issue important to all Haitians, but he went way too far, and has brought the process of national reconciliation almost to a halt," one diplomat said. Another said: "He played with fire a little bit, and I'm sure he did it on purpose. He was sending everyone a message."

Haitians are scheduled to go to the polls Dec. 17 to choose a successor to Mr. Aristide, and the incidents of violence by vigilantes and intimidation against his perceived opponents coincided with the registration period for presidential candidates, and dropped off as it came to an end.

Many of Mr. Aristide's most fervent supporters have called for the vote to be canceled altogether so he would remain in office. Under the constitution, the president cannot serve two consecutive terms.

For the political and economic elite, Mr. Aristide's remarks stirred memories of the incendiary oratory he employed shortly before being overthrown by the military in September 1991.

Fearing the worst, some have quietly left the country, while others have approached friends at foreign embassies, seeking guarantees of protection.

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