Haiti government tightens screws on opponents

Haiti's interim government has moved actively in recent days to counter six weeks of political protest, in which 37 civilians have been killed. The National Council of Government (CNG) ordered the expulsion of a prominent opposition leader last Friday and this week banned public gatherings in many areas of the capital.

The government said Monday it had issued restrictions on public demonstrations to protect the public from violence. The government palace as well as much of the downtown are now off limits for public gatherings, and organizers will be held criminally responsible for damages caused by demonstrators. The measures have sparked further antigovernment criticism.

Concerned that other civil liberties may be curtailed, the leaders of the 57 Organizations, a coalition of center-left social and political groups, said the two orders are further evidence of the ruling council's undemocratic practices. The opposition group has led six weeks of strikes and demonstrations in a call for the government to step down.

Daniel Narcisse, a left-wing leader of the 57 Organizations and one of the six main strike organizers, was ordered out of the country last Friday as an undesirable foreigner. Mr. Narcisse, was a political exile for 20 years during the Duvalier family dictatorship, and holds a Canadian passport. He has reportedly gone into hiding in Haiti.

Expressing the kind of mixed emotion characterizing the uneasy political atmosphere here, a conservative businessman whose downtown real estate has been battered in the demonstrations applauded the new crowd restrictions. However, referring to Narcisse's expulsion, he said, ``It isn't very democratic is it?

In a Monday statement, Narcisse said the expulsion order is a decision made by the Tonton Macoutes, the dreaded terrorist organization created by the Duvalier family. Opposition groups claim the Macoutes is still operating within the government.

``Expulsion is a fascist way to disorganize the opposition,'' Narcisse said. He further argued that though the Haitian Constitution does not permit dual citizenship, it does permit him two years to change his Canadian citizenship to Haitian. Many former exiles like him still hold foreign passports, including some government ministers, he said.

The measures are the government's most recent response to the unrest. Unrest flared in late June when the government issued and rescinded two unpopular decrees disbanding a union and an electoral planning council. The council had been given the authority to map out a plan for civilian presidential elections to be held by February.

Meanwhile, due to continued violence, the US State Department has issued an advisory suggesting that US citizens postpone nonessential travel to Haiti.

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