Discontent with Haiti's military-led provisional government fueled mass protests and violence Friday, and the country's top leaders sought to ease the crisis with a shake-up in the ruling junta.
Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, head of the five-man government council, announced early in the afternoon that the council was being restructured, ousting two men who were high officials under deposed dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.
Dropped from the council were Alix Cineas, a longtime Duvalier collaborator, whose positions had included public works minister. Critics of the provisional government had demanded insistently that he be removed.
Also gone from the council was Col. Max Valles, who had been head of the army's elite Presidential Guard under Duvalier. Cineas and Valles, in addition to their positions on the council, have been Cabinet ministers in the provisional government.
Adviser Not Mentioned
Namphy did not mention Col. Prosper Avril, the council's adviser. Avril, who was Duvalier's top security adviser, also has been a target of recent criticism as a "Duvalierist." It was not clear Friday if Avril will continue as the council's adviser. "I suppose he is around in some capacity but with a lower profile," a foreign diplomat said.
The crisis was Haiti's worst since protests and other disturbances forced Duvalier to flee the impoverished Caribbean country six weeks earlier.
On Friday, demonstrations against the council brought chaos to the downtown area of Port-au-Prince and to many outlying neighborhoods.
"It was very close to anarchy," a foreign specialist on Haitian affairs said.
"Down the council!" protesters shouted in front of the gleaming white National Palace. Elsewhere, they blocked streets with trash bins and rubbish.
Some Shooting Heard
Numerous clashes were reported between demonstrators and security forces. Intermittent shooting was heard through the day and into the night in the city, which was under an 8 p.m. curfew.
No official death toll was issued. But a radio station reported that an army sergeant was killed by a mob, and foreign reporters saw the bloodied body of a civilian man. A foreign diplomat also reported seeing a body.
In Washington, the State Department said it had assurances that Haiti's transition to democracy and respect for human rights will not be impeded. It added that Eastern and American airlines have temporarily suspended flights to Haiti but said there is no danger to the several thousand Americans in Haiti.
The latest protests were not the first since Duvalier turned power over to a five-member council. They were the culmination of widespread bitterness over the post-Duvalier failure to break completely with an unpopular ruling system and many of the people in it.
In his announcement, Namphy said: "The armed forces have decided to reconstitute the National Government Council after the resignation of some of its members. The lack of understanding of some, together with the blind ambition of others, slowed down the pace of accomplishments that the (council) had started."
Power Struggle Hinted
The reference to "ambition" appeared to hint at an internal struggle for power, but Namphy did not elaborate.
Referring to anti-government protests, he said "ill-intentioned" persons had provoked "a climate of violence, agitation and disorder, which would bring the nation to a disastrous outcome."
Col. Williams Regala, who was the army inspector general under Duvalier, remains on the council along with Namphy, who was Duvalier's chief of staff. Although both Regala and Namphy were high officials, neither is regarded as Duvalierist.
Jacques A. Francois, an elderly lawyer from the northern town of Cap Haitien, was also named to the council.
Thus, the council's membership has been reduced from five to three.
Rights Critic Sidelined
Gerard Gourgue, the only council member who had been an outspoken critic of the Duvalier regime, resigned in protest Thursday. Gourgue was known to have been upset by the failure of security forces to detain former Duvalier officials accused of abuses, including torture and murder.
He had openly protested when authorities allowed a high police official, Col. Albert Pierre, to flee to Brazil.
Before joining the provisional government, Gourgue was president of the Haitian Human Rights League. He said he will return to that position.
The day before Gourgue resigned, a traffic incident between a taxi driver and an army captain escalated into another major focus for anti-government protests.
After exchanging slaps with the driver, the captain put him in handcuffs and left, returning with a squad of soldiers. The soldiers shot into a crowd that had gathered in the driver's defense.
Radio reports said as many as five people were killed and 20 werewounded. The driver recounted the incident in a radio broadcast, and public anger spread quickly. Protests broke out Thursday, and the government imposed the 8 p.m. curfew. On Thursday and Friday, most drivers of taxis and intricately painted mini-buses, Haiti's main form of transportation, all but paralyzed Port-au-Prince with a protest strike.