PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, JULY 11 -- A general strike called to protest the return from exile of two former high-ranking officials held responsible for brutality and terror under the Duvalier dictatorship effectively shut down the capital today, contributing to a political crisis that is endangering Haiti's planned elections.
The independent Radio Haiti-Inter reported deposed dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier had booked a flight to Haiti for July 29 and that two more of his former top officials were expected to arrive tonight. Duvalier has lived in exile in France since he was ousted in a popular uprising in February 1986. The radio station gave no attribution for the report, which could not be independently confirmed.
The strike, organized by political and labor groups, was peaceful, although police officers wearing flak jackets and carrying automatic weapons patrolled the streets with soldiers. Most stores, factories and schools were closed, and the city's streets -- usually jammed with taxis and buses -- were quiet.
Reports from Cap-Haitien and Gonaives, Haiti's second- and third-largest cities, indicated widespread support for the strike in the provinces. Most businesses were closed, but buses were still running.
Strike organizers said the protest was held in response to the return of two former high-ranking officials, Roger Lafontant and Williams Regala, who came back separately from exile last week.
Lafontant ran the Tontons Macoutes, the feared Duvalier family security force that disbanded after Duvalier fled. Lafontant arrived in Haiti July 7 on a commercial flight from the Dominican Republic, where he has lived in exile since 1985.
The minister of interior ordered immigration officials at the Port-au-Prince airport to stop Lafontant from entering the country, but the instructions were ignored.
Regala, a retired army major general, was a key officer under Duvalier and served as interior and defense minister in subsequent army-led governments. He is widely regarded as the mastermind of the election-day massacre of Nov. 29, 1987, in which thugs supported by the army shot or hacked to death at least 34 voters at polling stations. Regala fled to the United States in March when an uprising forced military ruler Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril into exile.
The return of the two men increased fears of an organized attempt to disrupt elections scheduled for Nov. 4. Unity Assembly, a political coalition that organized today's strike, declared in a statement that Lafontant and Regala "at large are ill omens of growing insecurity and a slap in the face of justice."
Louis E. Roy, president of the Council of State, a body that advises provisional President Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, said warrants have been issued for the arrest of both men.
"If these people are allowed to stay in the country, no one will vote in the November elections. They are viewed as public enemies," Roy said, adding that he did not know if the police will arrest the two right-wing leaders. He said it is up to the executive branch to order the police to take action.
Pascal-Trouillot, who was appointed president to succeed Avril, made no public statement in response to the protest. Her silence underscored a rift between the president and the 19-member Council of State, which was appointed to govern alongside her in a caretaker civilian government.