Violence erupts at Dominican opposition meeting

AP News
Posted: Jan 27, 2013 2:02 PM

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — A melee erupted Sunday at the headquarters of the Dominican Republic's main opposition party and at least six people were wounded by gunfire, according to police and party officials.

Dominican Revolutionary Party president Miguel Vargas said the violence broke out when partisans of former President Hipolito Mejia attempted to take over the party's offices in Santo Domingo during a Sunday meeting of party organizers.

Vargas alleged that the mob was "hired and directed" by Mejia, who was expelled from his own party earlier this month after a disciplinary panel found him guilty of insubordination, divisiveness and promoting actions for personal benefit. Three other politicians also were expelled for the same reasons after an internal power struggle.

Police spokesman Maximo Baez said detectives are investigating and authorities have taken control of the party's headquarters. One of the injured people was a cameraman for a local TV news station that was covering the meeting, he said.

Mejia and the three other expelled politicians had been prevented from attending Sunday's meeting and warned to keep their distance. They were accused of trying to oust Vargas after Mejia lost the general election in May. Mejia blamed his loss on Vargas, insisting he had formed a pact with the ruling Dominican Liberation Party.

Mejia had sought to control the party ever since he beat Vargas in the 2011 primaries, which Vargas claimed were rigged.

The former president, who calls himself "Papa," told reporters after the melee that police must carry out an investigation to determine who was responsible for the violence.

"We have not done an assessment of what happened nor do we know what will happen to the party," he said.

Mejia was the Dominican Republic's president from 2000-2004, a period marked by a deep economic crisis after three banks collapsed. He lost a bid for a second presidential term in 2004 and he also lost the last general election after the first round in May. Mejia won nearly 47 percent of the vote during last year's election, but Danilo Medina of the Dominican Liberation Party won over 51 percent, enough to avoid a runoff.

Politics in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, largely revolves around the two main parties. The ruling Dominican Liberation Party is considered center-right and the PRD center-left, but their difference largely turn on personality, loyalty and patronage.