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Last Updated: Friday, 13 February, 2004, 12:03 GMT
Balancing act for Haiti opposition
By Claire Marshall
In Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Mother and child in Haiti
Humanitarian concerns are coming increasingly to the fore
It has been a week of extraordinary violence in Haiti.

About 50 people have been killed in clashes between government and opposition supporters.

That is only an estimate because it is very, very difficult to come by any kind of reliable information here.

Essentially there are different rebel factions in control of different towns across Haiti. Some 11 towns now are thought to be under their control, with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's police force having been completely evicted

And these rebel factions are even proclaiming their own kind of authorities within the spheres of influence that they have.

On the issue of violence, a line has been drawn between the opposition coalition and the different rebel groups which have armed themselves and which have taken over parts of the country.

'Clinton's mistake'

One of the most prominent opposition platform spokesmen, Andy Apaid, wanted to make it clear that he did not approve of violent methods.

But it is a very difficult balancing act because essentially the two different groups want the same goal. They want to get rid of President Aristide.

But there is still a large movement, particularly within the capital Port-au-Prince, that wants to do it in a peaceful way.

Andy Apaid invoked the names of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, saying that he wanted to try and lead the opposition in a form of peaceful protest.

Protests in Haiti
A large movement of people wants to protest peacefully
He was angry that on Thursday, pro-Aristide fighters essentially intimidated opposition groups to cancel a protest march against the president.

The United States has said it does not want to see any kind of "regime change".

It is difficult to assess the impact of that statement but it is certain to cause a lot of disappointment.

In many of the marches here over the past few weeks, the call has been for President Bush to come and "take back" Clinton's mistake, as they call it.

President Bill Clinton was in charge when American marines came in here and re-restored President Aristide to power in 1994 (the president was forbidden to stand for a second term in 1995, but was re-elected in 2000).

The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has strongly hinted that no such military intervention is likely to take place in order to get rid of President Aristide. And suggestions that some kind of international police force should be sent to Haiti to uphold his administration, will not be well received.

To complicate the situation, there are humanitarian problems on the horizon.

In the north of the country is the so-called "bread basket" of Haiti, Cape Haitian.

The difficulty is that because rebel factions are in control of a lot of the areas there, there is essentially a kind of dividing line.

Lots of supplies cannot get through. The markets are closed. The banks are closed.

People cannot go to business. They cannot go to work.

People are not getting any food.

Red Cross representatives in several northern regions of the country say that unless the situation is resolved in the next few days, a lot of people will be facing very, very difficult conditions.



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