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7689: Americas leaders urge Haiti to press on with reform (fwd)
Americas leaders urge Haiti to press on with reform
By Angus MacSwan
QUEBEC CITY, April 22 (Reuters) - Leaders at the Summit of the Americas on Sunday singled out Haiti as country where democracy is struggling and urged President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to make good on pledges toward reform.
They designated the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Cesar Gaviria, to visit Haiti soon to check on progress and hinted that aid money, vital to the poorest country in the Americas, could dry up otherwise.
Haitian officials canceled a tentatively scheduled news conference and were not available to comment.
The summit host, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, said in his closing speech that Haiti had drawn particular attention at a meeting where cementing democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean was a key theme.
"We acknowledge the problems that continue to limit the democratic, political, economic and social development of this country," Chretien said.
He said Aristide had made some effort to resolve the problems, but added: "We are also aware of the efforts of other political parties and other sectors of political life, notably members of civil society."
Opposition groups in the Caribbean nation of 7.8 million people accuse Aristide of repressing opponents and working to set up a dictatorship since he took power after elections last November.
Aristide enjoys huge support from Haiti's poor but has alarmed Washington because of his leftist leanings. He became the country's first freely-elected leader in 1991 but was deposed in a military coup seven months into his term.
Restored to power by a U.S.-led invasion in 1994, he stepped down at the end of his term. He won a second presidency last year in an election boycotted by the opposition and took office in February.
The opposition and foreign governments who donate aid to Haiti have also complained about the conduct of legislative elections in May 2000, saying vote-counting fraud handed victory to Aristide's Lavalas Family Party.
Donor nations withdrew support for the November presidential vote and suspended $500 million in aid.
Chretien called on all parties "in a spirit of openness and conciliation" to redouble efforts to overcome the difficulties caused by the May 2000 legislative election.
Aristide, a former grass-roots priest who led opposition to brutal military regimes in his early days, has said he is working on a series of reforms to resolve the political impasse, including holding new, early parliamentary and senate elections in keeping with an agreement worked out with outgoing Clinton administration last December.
"We ask President Aristide to take rapid action on all of the commitments made in December," Chretien said.
World Bank President James Wolfensohn, announcing a $150 million fund for AIDS projects in the Caribbean, said "a possibility existed" for Haiti to discuss that with the bank.
Gaviria of the OAS said a special mission to Haiti must wait till certain conditions were met. But he added: "Everyone recognizes Haiti cannot be isolated."
A Latin American diplomat said the Summit decided to comment on Haiti because leaders did not want Aristide to return home in triumph after a meeting of "democratic countries."