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6900: Haiti's Aristide Meets Critics Before Second Term (fwd)
From: nozier <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sunday February 4 12:49 PM ET
Haiti's Aristide Meets Critics Before Second Term By Trenton Daniel
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - Just a few days shy of taking
office for a second term as Haiti's president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide
has met with opposition leaders in an effort to defuse a political
crisis over flawed elections in the impoverished Caribbean nation.The
meeting, the first time in several years that Aristide has met publicly
with opposition figures, was held Saturday at the Vatican's embassy in
Haiti and marked a step toward dialogue that has been urged by the
United States and other nations.
Aristide, who is due to be sworn in for a second term on Wednesday, is
a fiery former Roman Catholic priest who became Haiti's first
democratically elected leader in 1991.
He was ousted just seven months into his term but restored to power
three years later in a U.S.-led invasion. He was constitutionally barred
from running for a second consecutive term in 1996 but won a November
presidential vote that was marred by an opposition boycott and shunned
by international observers. Opposition leaders were angry over
parliamentary elections last year that gave Aristide's ruling Family
Lavalas party a sweeping victory in Haiti, a country of 7.8 million
people that is the poorest in the Americas. Saturday's meeting followed
an eight-point agreement with former President Clinton (news - web
sites)'s administration last December to seek a resolution to the
crisis, which included a pledge to include opposition members in his
Aristide met with the leaders of opposition alliance, Democratic
Convergence, for talks but one observer said nothing decisive had yet
emerged. ``It (the meeting) was more procedural than anything,'' said
Pierre-Emile Rouzier, spokesman for the Civil Society Initiative, a
group of business and religious leaders that banded together last month
to mediate a solution.
Rouzier said that Saturday's meeting would be followed by more talks
Sunday between Lavalas and opposition representatives. Aristide was not
expected to attend.
Aristide had no comment on the Saturday meeting, but Rouzier said he had
stressed the need for an accord. ``If Arabs and Jews can try to make
peace in the Middle East, why not among us Haitians?'' Aristide was
quoted as saying.
Brian Dean Curran, the United States's newly appointed ambassador in
Haiti, told Reuters that the meeting Saturday was ''very positive --
it's a good start.'
Aristide Could Face Rough Ride
Aristide will take over this week from his protege and ally President
Rene Preval. Aristide's return to power in Haiti, which shares the
island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, starts on a difficult
note because of the election disputes.
This latest crisis erupted last year after officials refused to review
the allegedly tainted calculation of election results that gave Family
Lavalas an overwhelming majority in the legislature. Analysts said that
Lavalas probably would have won no matter how the vote was calculated
but by a smaller margin.The dispute prompted the main opposition parties
to pull out of the 2000 presidential vote and to plan a``parallel
government'' to counter Aristide's.
The bottom line for Haiti in resolving its political dispute is
financial. Pending an effort to smooth over the crisis,donor nations
have held up hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to a country where
unemployment is about 80 percent and where a recent U.N. study found
some 62 percent of the population is malnourished.