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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti--Brig. Gen. Prosper Avril, a former military adviser for the Duvalier dictatorship, declared himself president yesterday after ousting Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy.
Avril, adjutant general of the army, said in an early morning address on national television that the Presidential Guard toppled Namphy on Saturday because it was "sickened" by the way Namphy governed. Namphy was exiled to the neighboring Dominican Republic.
Residents reported hearing heavy gunfire Saturday night near the presidential palace in what appeared to be fighting between military factions.
Frantz Lubin, Haiti's director of information, said soldiers were killed, but Avril mentioned no casualties.
Avril's takeover occurred a week after about 20 men armed with machetes, handguns and steel pikes attacked a church during a Mass being said by the Rev. Jean Bertrand Aristide, a vocal critic of the military government. Thirteen people were killed and 77 wounded. Opposition leaders blamed Namphy's government for the attack and another church burning two days later.
Yesterday morning, slum dwellers killed and burned the body of one man and cheered when a soldier shot and killed another man suspected of participating in the massacre. By midday, the city was quiet, but the airport was closed.
Avril, who was adviser to ousted President Jean-Claude Duvalier, said Haiti will respect all international treaties, liberties and human rights and said that "dialogue will be honored for the sake of national reconciliation."
Lubin said Jean-Claude Paul, commander of the 700-man Dessalines Barracks, was named commander-in-chief of the army, but Avril did not mention Paul. Dessalines is said to be the most feared unit in the 7000-man Haitian army.
Paul, who has been indicted on federal drug trafficking charges in Miami, had been considered the most powerful figure in Haiti after Namphy. It was not known if Paul played a role in the coup, but sources said Namphy and Paul were at odds.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Anita Stockman said noncommissioned officers of the Presidential Guard captured Namphy in an apparently bloodless coup and persuaded Avril to take over.
She said they were believed to be "dissatisfied with recent human rights violations and the general deterioration in the security situation punctuated by attacks against the churches over the past two weeks."
Stockman said Avril phoned the U.S. ambassador and said he was assuming the presidency. She said the U.S. government still wants Paul to answer the drug trafficking charges in court.
Namphy arrived in a private plane at a private airport in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, early yesterday morning, said Fabio Herrera Cabral, deputy foreign minister of the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.
The Dominican Republic said Namphy and Port-au-Prince Mayor Franck Romain were granted political asylum in its embassy in Port-au-Prince. Details on the departure of Romain and 12 others still were being discussed, Herrera Cabral said. Romain was a colonel in the Presidential Guard and chief of police under Duvalier.
Avril reported Namphy's ouster at about 2:30 a.m., several hours after shooting broke out at the main plaza in front of the presidential palace. The gunshots sent dozens of people fleeing for cover.
Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said the fighting involved army factions and members of the Tonton Macoutes, the dreaded agents that terrorized Haitians during the 29-year dictatorships of the Duvalier family. Details about the fighting were not known.
In his speech to members of the Presidential Guard at the palace, Avril declared himself president and promoted himself to lieutenant general.
"The Presidential Guard, sickened by the way the country has been governed since the seventh of February, 1988...has been forced to act again," he said.
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