Haiti soldiers want Aristide to leave and army to return


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, AP

About 1,000 former members of the dismantled Haitian army marched in the capital Tuesday, demanding the return of the army and the ouster of the new government.

Brandishing signs saying, “Long Live the Army!” the soldiers marched in front of the U.S. Embassy and then to the French Embassy.

During the march, supporters of newly elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide briefly threw rocks at the ex-soldiers. No one was seriously injured and the demonstration was largely peaceful.

At each embassy, the protesters delivered a letter to officials asking for support of their movement, which aims to “uproot” from power Aristide’s Lavalas Family party, said former army major Gerard Dalvius.

He said the soldiers supported Convergence, the 15 party opposition alliance that has refused to recognize Aristide’s legitimacy.

Aristide was re-elected to the Haitian presidency in November, capping his party’s clean sweep of May’s local and legislative races denounced as fraudulent by the opposition alliance. It has accused Aristide and Lavalas of setting up the makings of a dictatorship.

The Organization of American States said that 10 Senate seats won in May by Lavalas candidates should have gone to second-round runoffs. As a result, international donors have suspended millions of dollars in aid to Haiti, the western hemisphere’s poorest country.

When Aristide was sworn in Feb. 7, the opposition chose an “alternative” president, lawyer Gerard Gourgue.

The soldiers in Tuesday’s march support Gorgue’s claim to the presidency, said Dalvius, the march leader. Gorgue has said he supports the army’s reestablishment.

It is not the first time military elements in Haitian society organized themselves against Aristide. In 1991, seven months after Aristide took office the first time, the 7,500 member army ousted him.

U.S. troops restored him to power three years later. In a program overseen by the United Nations, the army was dismantled and a 6,000-member national police force was put in its place.

More than 1,000 police officers are former soldiers.

Aristide has pledged to introduce a constitutional amendment formally abolishing the army in the Parliament.