Waves of violence that left at least one person dead and scores injured swept through Port-au-Prince on Monday, apparently aimed at disrupting next Sunday's planned presidential election, Haiti's first in 30 years.
An elderly man was clubbed to death early in the morning by a gang of arsonists who chased sleeping food-sellers out of the capital city's third-largest covered market, injuring dozens of them, before spreading gasoline and burning the 90-year-old Salomon Market to the ground.
According to a witness interviewed by The Times, a second man was shot to death and another wounded by a gunman who threw the body of the unknown victim into a car and raced away.
In other incidents that continued into the early afternoon, armed men fired on and attempted to burn the new headquarters of the independent Electoral Council, shot at the headquarters of two leading presidential candidates, assaulted a group of squatters in an abandoned house, blockaded many roads with burning tires and drove through downtown streets firing gunshots in the air. A major electoral office responsible for municipal elections also was sacked.
For the first time since general strikes were called in July, most shops and stores in downtown Port-au-Prince were shuttered, and many families kept their children home from school.
As with previous incidents of pre-election terrorism, the army-led provisional government of Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy made no visible effort to stop the violence. After hundreds of terrorized stall-keepers in the Salomon Market were herded out screaming and the building was set afire, one army trooper in a five-man police post across the street said he and his comrades saw and heard nothing.
Graffiti proclaiming in red paint "Down With the Electoral Council, Long Live the Army" appeared on whitewashed walls throughout the capital.
Military Complicity Charged
Officials of the nine-member Electoral Council, which has been feuding with Namphy, accused the military of complicity in the terrorist actions, which, they said, were carried out by strong-arm followers of Haiti's former dictators, the late Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude.
"When you allow this to happen, you are an accomplice," said the Rev. Alain Rocourt, head of the Haitian Methodist Church and one of the nine council members who are racing to complete preparations for Sunday's nationwide balloting for president and National Assembly. "It is obvious that the army has allowed them to do the whole thing," Rocourt said at the council headquarters, which was shot at and firebombed early in the morning.
Rocourt expressed fear that the violence was being orchestrated to give the army an excuse to call for cancellation of the election because of violence in the streets.
"They are trying to create chaos so the army can step in," Rocourt charged. "How can these things happen in broad daylight with no police around?"
Several presidential candidates, including the Rev. Sylvio Claude, a Baptist minister whose campaign headquarters was shot up for the second time in two weeks during Monday's violence, have pledged to crack down on the military if they are elected.
A mob of 20 to 30 men armed with pistols, clubs and rocks also attacked the headquarters of presidential candidate Marc Bazin, who gained fame and the enmity of the Duvaliers when, as finance minister, he tried to force Jean-Claude Duvalier's father-in-law and other wealthy Duvalieristes to pay taxes.
Monday's violence followed a period of almost two weeks of relative calm during which the Electoral Council tried to complete preparations for placing millions of ballots and 18,000 ballot boxes in 6,000 polling locations around the primitive country.