Several thousand supporters of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide took to the streets of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti Wednesday to express their discontent with current leader Michel Martelly. It is a move that has sparked concern about the future of Haiti’s political stability.
"Martelly said he would bring change; instead he's bringing division," protester Rene Augustin told the Associated Press.
The protests came on the eighth anniversary of Aristide’s ouster, and the impressive show of support bolsters claims that he still wields considerable influence in the country — even after seven years in exile.
Just days ago, a lawyer claiming to represent Aristide announced that the Haitian government was preparing to investigate the former president on criminal charges. Although the claims were denied by both Haiti's justice minister and Aristide's real attorney who resides in Miami, the rumor incited anger among Aristide’s supporters.
"We're telling Martelly to be careful," Jean-Claude Jeanty, a protester, told the AP. "If the government plans to arrest him, we're going to burn the country down."
During the demonstration, which was the largest since Martelly took office last May, crowds challenged Martelly’s leadership, calling for the removal of U.N. peacekeeping troops and demanding him to prove that he does not hold dual citizenship, which, if true, could bar him from office.
"We know you're not Haitian. You need to bring your passport. If you're not Haitian, turn in your passport,” protesters chanted, according to the AP.
The protests come at a delicate time for Haiti’s government as its leaders are still trying to regroup following prime minister Garry Conille’s surprise resignation from his post last Friday. At the time of his departure, Conille was ensnared in a political battle with Martelly over his decision to audit reconstruction contracts.
Also threating Martelly’s leadership and the stability prospects of the still-recovering nation is an armed band of former Haitian soldiers that has occupied an old military camp in the capital for two weeks, carrying out military training in defiance of the government.
Although Martelly faces mounting international pressure to disarm the soldiers, the group has ignored appeals by the president to put down their weapons and leave the camp.
"We took control of something that is ours. No one can force us to leave this place," said David Dorme, the leader of the group and a former army sergeant, according to Reuters.
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(Photo: REUTERS/Swoan Parker)