- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

GONAIVES, Haiti — The government marked the country’s 201st anniversary of independence on Saturday while protesters demanded more help in this flood-ravaged city, where political tensions still linger almost a year after a revolt that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In the northern city of Gonaives, where the country’s declaration of independence from France was signed on Jan. 1, 1804, interim President Boniface Alexandre urged Haitians to help pave the way for “free, honest, transparent and democratic elections” this year.

“Haiti had 200 years of suffering, division and hatred,” Mr. Alexandre said from a balcony at City Hall, addressing a restless crowd of about 200. “In 2005, we must not make our ancestors ashamed. We must all understand the problem is in us.”

The crowed heckled Gonaives Mayor Calixte Valentin when he introduced Mr. Alexandre and other speakers, shouting “Get out!” Mr. Valentin told AP he was considering resigning, saying he is frustrated about not having enough funds to meet people’s demands.

Earlier, Mr. Alexandre and interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue listened to a church sermon while about 200 protesters gathered outside the cathedral. Some demanded the U.S.-backed government deliver on promises made in October to rebuild the battered city.

Hundreds are still homeless from September floods that killed at least 2,000 people and left an additional 1,000 missing and presumed dead. Piles of dried mud still block roads, agriculture is in ruins and half the city’s schools have yet to reopen.

“We’re tired of the lies,” said Barthelemy Dieu-Fils, a teacher. “They said there’s money coming, but we don’t see any money. … We can’t live like this.”

Last year, bloody clashes between police and protesters in Gonaives and the capital, Port-au-Prince, ruined Mr. Aristide’s bicentennial tribute to Haiti’s independence as the world’s first black republic. South African President Thabo Mbeki was among the few dignitaries who didn’t cancel his appearance, but left Gonaives prematurely amid security threats.

A month later, in February, anti-Aristide gangs attacked the Gonaives police station, killing officers and joining former soldiers to begin a rebellion that drove Haiti’s first democratically elected leader into exile.

The cash-strapped interim government has promised elections this year, but has also struggled to maintain security, despite a 6,000-member U.N. peacekeeping force.

More than 100 people have been killed since Sept. 30, when loyalists of Mr. Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, stepped up demands in the capital for his return from exile in South Africa.

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