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US Condemns Haiti Riots - 2001-12-18

The United States has condemned the rioting by government supporters which followed Monday's attempted coup in Haiti, and it is calling for a mediated end to the festering political dispute there over last year's legislative elections.

The State Department was quick to condemn Monday's bloody attack on the National Palace in central Port-au-Prince by a band of gunmen, but it has also responded with harsh criticism of the mob violence by supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide which followed the attempted coup.

Hundreds of armed supporters of Mr. Aristide rallied outside the palace after the attack and fanned out to stage arson attacks against the homes and offices of leaders of the opposition coalition, the Democratic Convergence.

Briefing reporters here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the mob violence was a matter of great concern to the United States and something the Aristide government should take responsibility for stopping. "We call on the government of Haiti to protect the rights of all Haitians and to take appropriate measures to discourage vigilante actions, to respect the rules of law and to maintain order," he said. "So you do have a situation that evolved there, and particularly the mob violence that occurred after the attacks, that was something of great concern to us."

Political tensions had been mounting in Haiti in recent weeks amid lingering bitterness over disputed legislative elections last year.

Spokesman Boucher said Monday's violence underscored the need for dialogue and reconciliation among all elements of Haitian society.

He urged the government political party Lavalas and the Democratic Convergence to participate in mediation efforts led by the Organization of American States aimed at a national agreement to resolve election issues.

The affiliation of the armed men who stormed the palace early Monday morning remains unclear.

Police later retook the building in fighting that killed at least seven people including policemen and passers by. President Aristide was at his home outside the capital at the time of the attack and was not hurt.

Relative calm returned to Port-au-Prince Tuesday. Mr. Boucher said the U.S. embassy which had closed down because of the unrest had reopened and airlines had resumed flights to Haiti.