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Haitian Officials: Gonaives Back in Government Hands - 2002-08-06


Haitian authorities say they are re-establishing order in the port city of Gonaives after several days of riots and anti-government demonstrations.

Police officials say security forces are back patrolling Gonaives, north of Port-au-Prince, one day after tear gas failed to break up a violent mob and riot police were forced to retreat.

Haiti's most recent bout of unrest began Friday, when a tractor was used to crash through a prison wall. More than 150 inmates escaped, including several street thugs convicted of committing violence against leaders of Haiti's opposition coalition.

The escapees, including many formerly loyal to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, declared the president a traitor and called for a nationwide uprising against him. For three days, anti-Aristide demonstrators took to the streets of Gonaives, torching buildings, blocking roads with burning tires and firing guns into the air.

Both the United States and officials of the Organization of American States called on Haiti's government to restore order and apprehend the escaped inmates. Haitian officials described the protesters as nothing more than gangsters.

A political stalemate has existed in Haiti since May of 2000, when President Aristide's Lavalas Party swept legislative elections that both the opposition and international observers said were beset with irregularities. Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, has been cut off from most forms of foreign aid for more than three years.

President Aristide returned to office last year after an election that was boycotted by the opposition. But public opinion polls show he is less popular today than he was during his first administration, which ended in a coup in 1991.

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