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For many Arubans, bad press an unwelcome visitor

Teen's disappearance shakes island's image

ORANJESTAD, Aruba -- Five weeks after Natalee Holloway vanished on this sunny Caribbean island, some of the publicity is beginning to rub Arubans a bit raw.

After all, islanders say, they live on a rock of stability with white sand beaches. Crime is low, living standards are relatively high, and no tourist has been killed since 1996.

As the cases of three young men tied to the American teen's disappearance work their way through the island's Dutch-based courts, Arubans are beginning to ask outsiders to back off and give their system a fair shake instead of a black eye.

There has been no trace of Holloway, an 18-year-old honor student from Alabama, since she vanished from a high school graduation trip May 30.

The case has attracted international attention of the sort that Aruba isn't accustomed to -- including foreign news coverage that many Arubans feel portrays their nation as a party island preoccupied with drugs and licentious ways, unable or unwilling to solve the case.

The simmering resentment began to boil over Tuesday night at a demonstration outside the colonial, tile-roofed courthouse where a few people with placards quickly became a crowd of about 200 denouncing some foreign television coverage as misleading.

The crowd also was inflamed by a tearful, bitter statement earlier in the day by Holloway's mother, Beth Holloway Twitty, who has been here since her daughter was reported missing. The mother said two brothers held in the case, 21-year-old Deepak Kalpoe and 18-year-old Satish Kalpoe, were guilty and should not have been freed.

Yesterday, Elgin Zeppenfeldt, Satish Kalpoe's lawyer, called the statement ''inflammatory, libelous, and totally outrageous."

''Innocent until proven guilty" read several placards at the demonstration. ''Respect our Dutch law or go home!" read another.

''We are together with the family of Natalee, but we love Aruba, too," said Ramon Garcia, a tourist guide. ''We don't need these pressures. We are a friendly island."

Demonstrator Orlando Flanigan said his country had given ''all our hearts, all our cooperation, everything," to help find Holloway. ''It's time we got some respect back," he said.

''They are making us look like a banana republic," he said. ''We are an educated and cultured people. Many of us speak four or five languages."

John Maywether told the crowd that Aruba is not an island of criminals.

''We have 96 [prison] cells and 53 percent of them are occupied by non-Arubans," he said. ''We are not angry. We are very disappointed."

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