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Haitian Burns Self On Statehouse Steps In Protest

August 31, 1987

BOSTON (AP) _ A man who indicated he was distraught over religious persecution and re- emergence of a dreaded secret police force in his native Haiti set himself on fire and died Monday on the Statehouse steps.

Cab driver Antoine Thurel, 56, set up a hand-lettered sign, and poured two to three gallons of flammable liquid over himself and set himself afire about 7 a.m., authorities said.

″I want to offer myself in holocaust for the complete liberation of my country,″ Thurel said on his placard, which hung on a Statehouse fence while his body burned before a few dozen people.

Ken Maxwell, a janitor in a nearby building, was bringing out trash when he saw what he thought was a man drinking water out of a large can.

″Then he went up in flames like a stack of hay ... black smoke, then flames,″ Maxwell said.

A waitress at a restaurant across the street from the Statehouse said Thurel waved his arms up and down and screamed as he burned.

″The fire was unbelievable,″ she said, asking that her name not be used. ″I couldn’t even speak.″

The sign and fliers, written in French, indicated Thurel was concerned with recent violence in Haiti, particularly what he apparently viewed as religious persecution by former members of the Tontons Macoutes, the private militia of deposed dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.

State Public Safety spokesman Jeff Grossman said investigators learned Thurel was particularly concerned with the safety of one of his daughters still in Haiti. ″There had been some sort of an incident in which she was nearly killed by accident in some sort of a firefight,″ he said.

Thurel left a wife and three other children, two in this country and another in Haiti, said Grossman.

Thurel was a member of the Temple Salem Church in Dorchester, a Haitian church of Protestant denomination. Roland LaForest, director of the Haitian Association of Cambridge, said the church is similar to other Protestant churches in its liturgy.

A translation of Thurel’s sign provided by authorities read: ″Because of many difficulties and my family responsibilities, I want to offer myself in holocaust for the complete liberation of my country. Note to the C.N.G. Macoute a product of the C.I.A. Note to the soldiers of death paid by the U.S. through Raphael Bazin. Note to the American Hand on the country. May Father Aristide live in Haiti. May Haiti live for the New Liberation.″

Aristide was one of the priests fired upon last week in Haiti while saying a Mass in memory of 7 peasants massacred July 23 by sharecroppers working for landowners near the town of Jean Rabel.

Since mid-July, Catholic missionaries working to organize Haiti’s poor have increasingly come under attack by soldiers and former members of the Tontons Macoutes.

Grossman identified Bazin as ″a well-known businessman and the brother of a candidate for president″ of Haiti. The candidate is Marc Bazin.

Boston Police Capt. Donald Devine, head of the department’s taxi division, said Thurel had been a driver in the city for about 10 years and ″seems to be a very responsible person. He hasn’t had any problems with us.″

Capitol Police Chief Daniel L. Skelly said there were indications Thurel called his wife and some relatives in New York City before the suicide.

Asked if Thurel was politically active, Grossman said authorities talked with Thurel’s minister, the Rev. Archange Mondestin of Brockton, who said Thurel ″liked to talk about politics but wasn’t involved.″

Capitol police saw smoke and rushed to the scene with fire extinguishers but were not able to save Thurel.

Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, who was not in the Statehouse when Thurel died, called the suicide a result of ″what happens when dictators fly high.″ He said there was nothing Capitol Police could have done to prevent it.

″That was just a tragic event this morning - one that I suspect had more to do with a very troubled person than with any security arragements at the Statehouse,″ Dukakis said.

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