Nearly all stores, factories and schools were closed for the day in this normally bustling capital, as many Haitians went on strike without knowing exactly why.
The action marked the growing isolation of the ruling National Government Council, led by Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, from a population that is quick to take to the streets in protest but lacks widely trusted political leaders to guide it.
Haitian authorities told diplomats here that six provincial cities were also paralyzed by the protest, a response to a call for a general strike issued late last week by 28 small political, labor and student organizations.
Four cities went to work as usual, the authorities and local radio stations reported. Unexpectedly, they included the north-central town of Gonaives where many recent popular demonstrations first took place.
No violence was reported today in the nation.
The newly formed alliance that summoned the strike is led by veteran politician Sylvio Claude of the Haitian Christian Democratic Party. It is calling for the resignation of Finance Minister Leslie Delatour, accused of bending to United States pressure, and government council member Col. Williams Regala, said to be linked to former dictator Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier.
At midday Claude pronounced the one-day stoppage "90 percent effective" and claimed, "The people have answered us."
But many shopkeepers along the colonnaded arcades in downtown Port-au-Prince said they kept their shutters down to prevent damage in case of riots.
"This is not a true strike. We just fear retaliation if we stay open by the groups who called it," said the 25-year-old manager of one of the capital's largest bookstores, who was afraid to give his name.
Most of the brightly painted pickup trucks, known as tap-taps, which serve as public transportation were stopped today. Tap-tap drivers said they stayed home in protest and were vague about their demands.
"Some political leaders told us on the radio to strike," said driver Borlite Jourdan, 40. "They said the council is not responding to our specific needs."
Many American-operated assembly plants closed at midmorning after fewer than 10 percent of their workers showed up.
Haitians questioned in the streets were pleased with Namphy's announcement Saturday of a schedule for elections leading to the inauguration of a new president Feb. 7, 1988. But they voiced uneasiness that elections are no longer enough to satisfy this impoverished country, though they could not articulate what measures would.
A number of prominent politicians did not back the strike. Said Hubert de Ronceray, a longtime opponent of the Duvalier regime, "As long as the government is open to dialogue, extreme measures are not justified."
On Saturday, Namphy made clear he does not intend to dismiss either of the ministers under fire. Regala said it is his "citizen's duty" to remain in his post.
In an interview yesterday, Delatour, a U.S.-trained economist, said he has "no intention of resigning."
Some politicians said the two ministers might have to leave to break the current impasse. But it appeared the two men had been singled out somewhat arbitrarily to take the blame for a general concern that the Namphy council is acting too slowly and not explaining its actions.
"There has been a terrible lack of communication between the people and the council," said Benjie Duval, head of the Association of Haitian Industries, a business group. "Namphy is a soldier -- he doesn't really know how to talk with the public."
Regala is the target of popular wrath because, as defense and interior minister, he commands the police believed to have shot and killed a young girl in a demonstration last Thursday.
Delatour is attempting a sweeping program of economic reform to break up a series of money-losing monopoly franchises extended by Duvalier to his business friends. The conservative shift he plans to a free market economy has raised fears among some Haitian workers that they could lose their jobs.
Strike leaders said they did not expect an immediate response from the council. They said protests will resume late this week if their demands are not met.
Some politicians called for the council to open special channels for talks with the opposition to avoid a spiraling cycle of demands.
"When is it going to end?" said economist Marc Bazin, viewed as a strong candidate for president. "Is it going to be one strike after another?"
Amid the tense mood, a mob of some 100 persons who said they were hunting for "werewolves" linked to Haiti's voodoo religion, killed three peasants in the northern village of Carrefours Alexis Monday. One man was burned to death.