- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 6, 2004

From combined dispatches

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Anger simmered among supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the Port-au-Prince slums yesterday, nearly a week after he fled to Africa, while Haiti’s council of elders worked to pick a new prime minister for the impoverished Caribbean country.

“We are going to burn down the palace with the Americans inside,” said Jean Enzo, a resident of the slums where Mr. Aristide built a power base as a firebrand Roman Catholic priest two decades ago.

“We have weapons, and we are ready to fight,” he told Reuters news agency.

The harsh words and a huge demonstration by Aristide supporters Friday showed Haiti’s poor masses were not ready to give up on their elected president, who was pushed from office last Sunday by a bloody revolt and foreign pressure.

Meanwhile, in the northern town of Gonaives, rebel fighters opposed to Mr. Aristide made a ceremonial offering to the voodoo god of war and insisted they would not give up their arms until the pro-Aristide fighters do the same.

“In terms of where the guns are and who we will surrender them to, that’s a secret,” local rebel commander Winter Etienne, 40, told the Associated Press after the ceremony to the spirit of Ogun Feray. “When you lay down your arms, you always want to have them someplace where you can pick them up again if you need them.”

Rebel leader Guy Philippe had promised earlier to lay down arms as the international peacekeepers arrived in Haiti.

The death toll in the monthlong rebellion has swelled to more than 200.

Mr. Aristide, from exile in the Central African Republic, has said repeatedly he was kidnapped by American forces, but Washington has denied the claim. Mr. Aristide repeated the charge in a statement released yesterday.

“One could say that it was a geopolitical kidnapping. I can clearly say that it was terrorism disguised as diplomacy,” he said in the transcript of a radio address delivered Friday by cellular telephone to a California radio station.

The council of “wise men” chosen Friday to help pick a new government includes only one member of Mr. Aristide’s Lavalas family movement, which had dominated the government. Four are from the political opposition, and two are from churches.

The council appeared to have settled on top candidates to replace Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, an Aristide ally. They included a former prime minister, Smarck Michel, who held the post during 1994 and 1995, after a U.S.-led intervention force of 20,000 troops restored Mr. Aristide to power following three years in exile.

Mr. Michel, a businessman, ultimately broke with Mr. Aristide over differences in economic policy. His businesses near the airport were looted this week.

Also mentioned are former Haitian army Gen. Herard Abraham, former Foreign Minister Gerard Latortue and Axan Abellard of the Center for Free Enterprise and Democracy. The new prime minister could be announced today or tomorrow, officials said.

As the political effort plodded ahead, U.S. special forces moved into territory held by the rebels, including Gonaives, where the rebellion erupted Feb. 5, and Cap-Haitien, the second-largest city.

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