Haitian president condemns storming of Parliament
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haitian President Michel Martelly, who was recovering in a Miami hospital on Wednesday from a blood clot in his lung, condemned the gunmen who stormed and briefly occupied the lower chamber of Parliament in Haiti's capital a day earlier.
No shots were fired and no injuries reported during the tense incident that cut short the Chamber of Deputies' session on Tuesday. The intruders left the chamber without firing any shots.
Former soldiers and other gunmen drove to the Parliament building in buses and trucks and blocked the exit, chanting slogans and calling for legislators to restore Haiti's disbanded army. The intruders wore military uniforms and some carried hand grenades, the president of the Chamber of Deputies said.
From a Miami hospital where he is recovering from a blood clot in the lung caused by recent shoulder surgery, Martelly condemned the intruders and called for calm.
"The presidency wants order and public peace to be maintained throughout the national territory and reminds all once again that the constitution of a new public force can only be done in an orderly manner with discipline and with respect to the law," he said in a prepared statement.
He said violators would be prosecuted with the full rigor of the law.
Martelly flew to Miami on Monday to have tests for pulmonary embolism, the sudden blockage of an artery in the lung. He was in stable condition and "evolving well," the Haitian government said on Wednesday. It did not say when Martelly planned to return home.
Martelly, 51, had canceled plans to attend the Summit of the Americas last weekend in Cartagena, Colombia. The decision came two weeks after he had surgery on his right shoulder in Miami.
The statement said Martelly was in regular contact with his Cabinet and other officials in Haiti.
'UNACCEPTABLE ACT OF INTIMIDATION'
Haiti's army was disbanded in 1995 by then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after a series of military coups. In recent months, several thousand former soldiers and aspiring soldiers have occupied government buildings and former army camps in defiance of government orders to leave.
It was unclear how many were involved in the incident at Parliament. Martelly's statement referred to "tens," but the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Levaillant Louis-Jeune, estimated the number at 300.
"We want a clear explanation from the government on what happened," Louis-Jeune said. "We want to know how a band of armed outlaws could be allowed to take to the streets and invade our workspace. ... They are operating freely and openly under the eyes of the authorities and they are not doing anything to stop it."
He said the chamber would not meet in session again until it received an adequate explanation. He said U.N. peacekeepers arrived on the scene and surrounded the building but did not take action against the intruders.
U.N. troops have acted as peacekeepers in the volatile Caribbean nation on and off since 1994. The head of the U.N. mission, known by the acronym MINUSTAH, condemned what he called an "unacceptable act of intimidation" of elected officials and said parliamentarians had acted wisely in allowing a peaceful resolution.
Peacekeepers have strengthened security around Parliament to deter further attempts at intimidation, according to the head of the mission, Mariano Fernandez Amunategui.
"MINUSTAH supports the Haitian authorities in their efforts to advance the rule of law and democracy," he said. "These acts are unnecessary provocations harmful to the country, including its image in the world."
Haiti is struggling to recover from a catastrophic 2010 earthquake, and a government panel has urged Martelly to get control of the former soldiers, who are often seen directing traffic and openly displaying weapons.
Martelly's government has been without a prime minister since February. Last week, Haiti's Senate approved his nomination to replace Garry Conille, who stepped down after just four months on the job following a dispute with Martelly over earthquake reconstruction contracts.
The appointment of Laurent Lamothe, who is currently Haiti's foreign minister and a former telecommunications entrepreneur, is pending approval by the lower house of parliament.