Haiti sees large anti-government protest

President Michel Martelly strongly criticised as supporters of former leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide take to streets.

    Aristide supporters say Michel Martelly, the current president, has not done enough to improve their lives [Reuters]

    Several thousand supporters of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide have filled the streets of Port-au-Prince, the country's capital, on the eighth anniversary of his toppling.

    In the largest demonstration against the country's current leader, Michel Martelly, since he took office in May, demonstrators on Wednesday accused Martelly of not doing enough to improve their lives.

    The crowd made a number of demands, including that Martelly prove that he does not hold dual citizenship, which could bar him from office, and that the UN peacekeeping mission leave the country.

    "If the government plans to arrest [Aristide], we're going to burn the country down"

    - Jean-Claude Jeanty, anti-Michel Martelly protester

    The large protest points to mounting political strife between the president and his critics as the country struggles to rebuild from the 2010 earthquake. It also illustrates the kind of support that still exists for the former president.

    Aristide, a former Catholic priest turned populist president, still wields influence since returning to Haiti last year, after seven years of exile in South Africa.

    Starting in front of the central parish where Aristide once preached, protesters then marched through the shantytown strongholds that supported Aristide and sang about how they would not betray the ex-president.

    Some people sustained minor injuries when rocks and bottles were thrown at the demonstrators and they retaliated by doing the same.

    Protesters also challenged Martelly, a globe-trotting musician before he entered politics, to present his passport to several senators who believe that he holds dual citizenship, which would render him ineligible to hold office.

    The government has denied that Martelly holds a double nationality, but the president has angered his opponents by saying he is under no obligation to show any proof of this.

    Protesters chanted: "We know you're not Haitian. You need to bring your passport. If you're not Haitian, turn in your passport."

    Legislators critical of Martelly participated in the protest as well and addressed the protesters.

    "President Martelly doesn't respect any institutions," Arnel Belizaire told The Associated Press. "He thinks running the country is like running a show."

    Political agitation

    Political agitation has been growing in the country for weeks. A lawyer who claimed to represent Aristide told a local radio station on Tuesday that the government was preparing to investigate the former president on criminal charges.

    While Haiti's justice minister denied the claim, and Aristide's attorney in Miami said he did not know the man who made the announcement, it was enough to stir Aristide supporters.

    "We're telling Martelly to be careful," said Jean-Claude Jeanty, a protester. "If the government plans to arrest him, we're going to burn the country down."

    On Friday, Garry Conille, the country's prime minister, suddenly resigned from his post after just four months on the job because of infighting with Martelly.

    Conille previously worked as an aide to Bill Clinton, the former US president, while Clinton was serving in his role as the UN special envoy to Haiti.

    He is staying on as the country's number two government official until legislators ratify a successor - a process that could take weeks and could be slowed down by an opposition-controlled parliament.

    Conille's abrupt resignation prompted Western diplomats, already vexed over the uneasy relations among government officials, to call for a swift replacement.

    Late on Wednesday, the administration picked Laurent Lamothe, the foreign affairs minister, as its nominee for prime minister, a senior government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to release the information.

    Lamothe, a 39-year-old former businessman who specialised in telecommunications before turning to politics, is co-chairman of an economic advisory board, on which Clinton also sits.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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