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25461: (news) Chamberlain: Gunfire erupts as new Haiti ministers take office (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, June 22 (Reuters) - Heavy gunfire erupted near
Haiti's presidential palace on Wednesday as interim president Boniface
Alexandre delivered a speech at a ceremony to appoint four new cabinet
It was not clear if the gunmen fired directly on the palace, but the
gunshots created panic outside the building in Port-au-Prince. The ceremony
continued and there was no word of any casualties.
U.N. troops, part of a peacekeeping force who were guarding the
palace, did not shoot.
Officials at the ceremony blamed the shooting on armed gangs loyal to
ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide seeking to disrupt the event, but
this could not immediately be verified.
The gunfire underscored the political and criminal unrest that has
dogged the impoverished Caribbean nation since Aristide was forced into
exile in February 2004, pushed out by an armed revolt and U.S. and French
pressure to quit.
At least 780 people have been killed in violence in Haiti since last
September and since March the country has been hit by hundreds of
kidnappings for ransom.
Wednesday's ceremony was to formally appoint three new ministers and a
deputy minister named by interim President Boniface Alexandre and Prime
Minister Gerard Latortue in a cabinet shuffle aimed at breathing new life
into the government.
Henri Dorlean, an adviser to Alexandre, became Justice Minister,
replacing Bernard Gousse, who had resigned. Also appointed were ministers
for the departments of the interior and social affairs, and a deputy social
In his remarks, Alexandre urged the new justice minister to be tough
on crime and to "take appropriate measures aimed at putting an end to
impunity and prolonged preventive custody."
The judicial system is chaotic in Haiti with the majority of people in
prisons not yet tried. Additionally, Aristide loyalists say the authorities
have imprisoned hundreds of supporters of the former president. The
government has denied there has been political persecution.
Haiti is preparing to hold a ballot on Oct. 9 to elect local
government officials, while legislative and presidential elections are to
be held on Nov. 13. But there is concern that instability could hamper the
elections. Voter registration and other preparations are falling behind
The U.N. Security Council meanwhile voted unanimously on Wednesday to
add 1,000 soldiers and police to the U.N. peacekeeping mission ahead of the
elections. The mission was sent in to help stabilize the country after
The increases would bring Brazilian-led U.N. military personnel to
7,500 from the current 6,700 and raise the number of police to 1,897 from