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Unrest in Haiti

The former chief justice of the Haitian Supreme Court was sworn in as the new president of Haiti. But Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who fled an armed rebellion more than a week ago, insisted that he is still president. Ray Suarez gets an update from New York Times correspondent Lydia Polgreen.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Lydia Polgreen, welcome. The man who was designated the acting president of Haiti when president Aristide left has now been installed in power. How did that come about?

  • LYDIA POLGREEN:

    Well, this was a ceremony that seemed to be rather hastily arranged. It was on again/off again many times canceled, and today it was actually held. Mr. Alexander has said many times, well, the couple of times he's spoken publicly, that he's not a politician. And he seemed quite nervous up at the lectern reading his remarks.

    He gave about a 15-minute speech in which he called upon the Haitian people to unite to put aside their divisions, and said, "We are all the same boat. If the boat sinks, then we all sink together." He read from a piece of paper and did not look up once, so he's certainly feeling his way through being a politician.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, the official forms have been observed, the outside trappings. This man has been elevated to the presidency. Is he really in charge of anything?

  • LYDIA POLGREEN:

    It's difficult to say. There's a council of eminent Haitians that is meeting as we speak to discuss selecting a new prime minister. That's really going to be a key development. The prime minister who is in place now is the holdover, and a real Aristide stalwart. He has been roundly rejected by all of the political and military opponents of President Aristide. And I think there's general agreement that he has to go, and has to go soon for the government to get under way.

    In Haiti, the president is really supposed to be more of a figurehead, and the head of government is a prime minister. But, of course, under Mr. Aristide all the power was derived from the presidency.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Today United States forces conceded that they were responsible for one of the deaths in a series of dueling demonstrations in Port-au-Prince. What was their explanations?

  • LYDIA POLGREEN:

    Well, they say that they opened fire on a pair of gunmen who were actually firing on Marines and on demonstrators. There were a total of, I believe, six people killed, one of them was this gunman that they were referring to. And there were four Haitians and one Spanish news television journalist. It appears that the Marines did open fire, but they say that they opened fire on a particular target, not on the crowd. And they say they don't believe that they're responsible for the at least two dozen injuries that were sustained by marchers.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Now that the foreign forces are in evidence in Haiti, are the score-settling murders continuing?

  • LYDIA POLGREEN:

    Outside of the capital they seem to be. It's a little unclear. There's not a lot of law and order out there. There is in cities like Gonaives, where I recently was over the weekend, you know, you've got basically young men who are gang members who are acting as police at the moment. They have no training in police; they certainly have no training in handling people's human rights and things like that, so it's quite a lawless situation.

    I did a story out of Petit Quois where there were clearly vengeance killings going on. I think that the foreign troops are trying to spread out and begin to, begin to deal with some of these areas of lawlessness, but it's going to take some time.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has spoken to his countrymen, and urged them to resist the occupation of the country. Is the situation such that what the former president says from exile is going to change what happens on the ground in the country very much?

  • LYDIA POLGREEN:

    Well, you know, President Aristide still enjoys a very broad support here. He came from the slums, he is a — he has always been an advocate for Haiti's poor, and promised, as his campaign slogan said, "peace in the mind, peace in the valley." He failed to deliver on those promises.

    But today, there were hundreds of pro-Aristide demonstrators who swarmed in front of the national palace chanting, "Aristide or death. You may not want him, but Aristide must come back." So there is very broad support. Exactly how much control he has over the armed militants who are loyal to him, and how much control he has over the politicians who remain here is unclear.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Also in that address, he repeated the allegation that he was kidnapped and forced from power. Is that story line still keeping tempers high on the ground in Haiti? Do people really care about the circumstances of his departure?

  • LYDIA POLGREEN:

    That President Aristide was kidnapped is an article of faith among his most, among his most loyal supporters. They believe this wholeheartedly. The opponents of Mr. Aristide of course say this is hogwash, they say he left because he had to leave, because his presidency was no longer tenable. But it certainly is a story that fascinates the Haitian people at the moment, just how Mr. Aristide left the country because I think everybody, whichever side they were on, were stunned with the swiftness with which it had happened.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The widespread destruction of property that we saw over the past two weeks, is that continuing, or has some kind of calm and order on the streets at least begun to prevail so they can preserve what they've got until somebody is in charge?

  • LYDIA POLGREEN:

    Yes and no. There has been ongoing looting. Today I was at the — today I was at the industrial park where there are many businesses, and there was looting going on there, there were skirmishes between policemen, there was some gunfire back and forth. There's a great deal of simply opportunistic looting. This is not organized. These are just very poor people who are taking this opportunity to grab whatever they can. And it's going on.

    The peacekeepers here, the peacekeeping troops here say that they cannot act as Haiti's police. They're here to reinforce Haiti's police force, and that securing lives is more support than securing property. But I think as time goes on it's going to become more and more important that property is protected.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times, thanks a lot.

  • LYDIA POLGREEN:

    Thank you.

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