Haitians begin protest strike

The Haitian opposition has launched a two-day general strike as part of its campaign to force President Jean-Bertrand Aristide out of office.

    The strike comes in the wake of Wednesday's violence

    Thursday's strike action came a day after political violence in the capital, Port-au-Prince, that left two dead, around 30 injured and heightened international concerns about the impoverished Caribbean republic.


    US Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking in Washington, said he was "very disturbed" by the deteriorating situation in Haiti and pressed President Aristide to accept a church proposal to resolve mounting political unrest.


    Powell threw Washington's backing behind a plan, presented by the Episcopal Conference of Haitian Bishops in November, that would set up a special committee to advise Aristide and guide the country to new elections.


    "We are at present pressing President Aristide to take the opportunity presented by the bishops' proposal that would bring some order to the political process and provide a constitutional way forward so that the people of Haiti can express their will," Powell said.


    Aristide has welcomed the church initiative, but it has been rejected by the opposition.   

    Mixed strike effect


    Businesses and most private banks in Port-au-Prince were closed due to the strike Thursday and there was little traffic on the streets. Only smaller shops and markets stayed open.


    The action had little effect in the second city of Cap-Haitien in the north, where most banks and businesses were open. But business was hit at Jacmel in the southeast.



    Similar demonstrations were held
    at the end of last December

    The opposition has not called for demonstrations during the strike but concerns have mounted again after Wednesday's violence, centred on an opposition march through the capital.


    Wednesday's violence


    In the latest violence, one demonstrator was killed by gunfire that came from Aristide supporters, according to witnesses.


    A supporter of the ruling Lavalas party was killed earlier during a shootout with police.


    About 30 demonstrators, many of them demanding Aristide's resignation, were injured by gunshots, stones or baton blows, according to hospital and media sources.


    Some of the protesters were wounded by Lavalas activists - who want Aristide to complete his five-year term in office – and tried to block the peaceful demonstration organised by the opposition in the Petion-Ville suburb of the capital.  


    Taking refuge


    Eight Haitian journalists took refuge at the offices of a human rights organization in the capital on Wednesday, saying they had been threatened by armed Lavalas party activists.


    The Haitian capital has seen mounting tension in recent months as the campaign against Aristide, a former priest, has gathered momentum.


    The unrest overshadowed celebrations on 1 January of the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence from France.


    The opposition has accused Aristide of corruption and mismanagement, demanding that he stand down. Aristide, who still has two years of his five-year term to serve, has refused.



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