Wednesday, February 17, 2010

French President Visits Haiti

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, right, walks past the honor guard with Haiti's President Rene Preval upon Sarkozy's arrival at the Haiti International Airport in Port-au-Prince, 17 Feb 2010

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, where he is expected to announce a substantial aid package to help the former French colony rebuild.

President Sarkozy's visit is the first by a French president to Haiti since it became a republic more than two centuries ago. The French leader arrived early Wednesday.

Mr. Sarkozy is expected to offer what his office calls "extremely significant proposals" when he meets with Haitian President René Preval. Reports say Mr. Sarkozy also will announce the cancellation of Haiti's $77-million debt to France.

France sent planeloads of emergency aid and rescue teams to Haiti following last month's catastrophic quake, which killed at least 217,000 people and left about one million others homeless.

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's poorest country. Even before the quake, the government was struggling to recover from tropical storms that wiped out 15 percent of its economic output in 2008.

Meanwhile, the Inter-American Development Bank says the cost of rebuilding Haiti following the quake could reach about $14 billion, making it the most destructive natural disaster in modern times.

The Washington-based bank issued its assessment Tuesday. The study says that when viewed in relation to Haiti's population and economy, the quake was more devastating than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated Indonesia and the cyclone that hit Burma in 2008.

Source: VOA

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