No state funeral for Haiti's hated dictator

No state funeral for Haiti's hated dictator
Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby-Doc" Duvalier gestures from a hotel in Petionville, in this January 16, 2011 file photo. Duvalier died of a heart attack on October 4, 2014, according to his lawyer Reynold Georges.

PORT-AU-PRINCE - Haiti's former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier won't receive a state funeral after all, his lawyer said Thursday, after public outrage that a man accused of corruption and mass killings could receive such an honour.

Duvalier will instead be remembered at a family ceremony Saturday in the chapel of his former Catholic school Saint-Louis de Gonzague in Port-au-Prince, more than a quarter-century after he was driven into exile by a popular uprising.

When the 63-year-old died of a heart attack last week, Haiti's President Michel Martelly declared in a tweet that he had been "an authentic son of Haiti," and his spokesman told AFP that a national funeral would be appropriate.

But the idea that a man accused of overseeing the looting of Haiti by a corrupt elite and of unleashing the murderous Tonton Macoute militia against his opponents be honoured in such a way outraged opposition groups and surviving victims of his regime.

It could also have embarrassed Haiti's international partners, who have stuck by Martelly's government despite its ties to figures from the former Duvalier regime.

The Duvalier family lawyer, Reynold George, expressed bitterness that the government, "rather than stand by its principles, has ceded to pressure from certain figures."

"There will be no official ceremony. The government has reversed its decision. The funeral will be organised by the family," he told AFP.

'The ultimate insult'

Duvalier came to office in 1971 aged only 19 after the death of his still more feared father and fellow president for life, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. The younger Duvalier ruled the impoverished Caribbean nation for 15 years until driven into exile by protests.

He returned in 2011 on the first anniversary of a devastating earthquake, saying he wanted to help Haiti rebuild, but found himself exposed to lawsuits from victims of his rule accusing him of graft and human rights abuses.

The victims were dismayed when Duvalier's surprise death deprived them of a chance to confront him with his alleged crimes in court, and human rights groups have vowed to keep the cases alive as an act of national memory.

They were even angrier when it emerged Duvalier might receive state honors, and joined opposition political groups in denouncing the idea, gathering thousands of signatures for an online petition.

In abandoning talk of honors for Duvalier, Haiti avoids an immediate political crisis, but the western hemisphere's poorest country still has difficult months ahead.

The January 2010 earthquake devastated vast tracts of the capital, and a cholera epidemic blamed on poor sanitation at a UN peacekeeping base has since killed 8,500 people and made 700,000 sick.

Pedro Medrano, the UN coordinator overseeing cholera response in Haiti, told AFP on Wednesday that the outbreak was "still an emergency situation."

Legislative and municipal elections have now been delayed for three years. Martelly decreed in June that they should be held October 26, but no electoral law has been passed and the election commission admits it has no time to organise them.

Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe on Thursday vowed to hold the elections as soon as possible, implicitly confirming they will not take place later this month, as the US slammed political moves to block the vote.

"Everything is ready for the elections," Lamothe said as he met US Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department, but "we're missing one thing, which is the electoral law."

While the law had gone to Haiti's senate, it had been held up for the past seven months by two senators, Lamothe said.

"This resistance, this unwillingness to allow the people to be able to have this vote, really challenges the overall growth and development progress of the country," Kerry said.

The mandates of a third of the senators in the 30-strong body have already expired, leaving it struggling to find a quorum, and Martelly has imposed 120 municipal leaders on towns to replace elected councils.

Legislators and the opposition are resisting attempts to hold a vote under rules they say were rigged by Martelly's camp, but if the terms of all 99 members of the lower house and another 10 senators expire next year, he would effectively be free to rule by decree.

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