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Aristide Left Stranded in Crowd Due to Lapse in Security Cordon

By Tod Robberson
The Washington Post

An embarrassing lapse in the tight U.S. security cordon around President Jean-Bertrand Aristide caused him to be stranded for several minutes in the middle of an ecstatic crowd Monday in his first public appearance since American forces restored him to the National Palace on Saturday.

During a ceremony honoring a Haitian revolutionary hero, a bulletproof limousine carrying Aristide and caretaker Prime Minister Robert Malval was surrounded and jostled by hundreds of elated Aristide supporters, who slapped the hood of the car and cheered at the rare opportunity to see their revered president. U.S. soldiers and members of Aristide's plainclothed American security detail spent several minutes in a shoving match with crowd members and journalists.

The limousine chose an alternate route to the nearby National Museum, where Aristide took part in a wreath-laying. In a reminder of the danger still facing Aristide, at least one member of the crowd outside the palace was heard muttering anti-Aristide threats to a Haitian journalist while the president spoke from behind bulletproof glass.

Haitian soldiers assembled on the palace lawn had the firing pins removed from their rifles, and bomb-sniffing dogs were used to search for explosives even in the musical instruments of the military band that played the Haitian national anthem.

Despite Aristide's repeated calls for national reconciliation since his triumphant return Saturday, few Haitians trust the 7,500-man army that forced the democratically elected president to flee and then conducted a three-year reign of terror under Gens. Raoul Cedras and Philippe Biamby and Lt. Col. Michel Francois. All three have gone into exile, and most security duties are being performed by a 19,000-member U.S. occupation force that arrived Sept. 19.

Raymond Jenty, administrative director of the Cabinet, said the legislature could meet Tuesday to vote on the proposal. He said Aristide already had ordered a purge of the army and police to weed out any members still perceived as loyal to the coup leaders, while U.S.-led training is being organized for a new civilian police force of up to 10,000 officers.