Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Clinton Joins Call For Quick Haiti Elections

Haitian President Rene Preval (L) and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined Haitian President Rene Preval Tuesday in calling for new elections in quake-hit Haiti as soon as possible.

Legislative polls, originally set for February and March, were postponed after the January 12 earthquake that demolished the capital Port-au-Prince, killing more than 220,000 people and leaving one million Haitians homeless.

Clinton, standing next to Preval at a press conference in Washington, said the Haitian leader "made the very important point that we must work toward elections to ensure the stability and legitimacy of the Haitian government.

"I assured president Preval that the United States would work with the international community to hold elections as soon as appropriate," the chief US diplomat said.

And Preval told reporters that "before I leave (office), there must be a parliament, there must be a new president before I leave. We have nearly a year to do that."

The 67-year-old leader, who also served as president from 1996 to 2001, is constitutionally barred from seeking a third mandate. His current term expires in February 2011 and presidential elections are expected in December.

"To have a provisional government in a year would be a catastrophe. This government would not have legitimacy, there would be no parliament, that would really be returning to 2004," Preval told reporters.

The Caribbean nation -- the poorest country in the western hemisphere -- has had a long history of dictatorship followed by years of political turmoil and civil unrest.

In 2004, 1,000 US Marines followed by thousands of UN peacekeepers brought order to Haiti after a bloody rebellion against president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's rule. A provisional government was then installed.

Preval underscored that stability was the key to attracting badly-needed foreign investment, while Clinton said "progress has been made but not nearly enough" toward easing the suffering of the Haitian people.

"The United States alone has supplied in this first phase nearly 700 million dollars in assistance," Clinton said, adding that half of all US households had also contributed something.

As preparations build for an international donors conference in New York on March 31, she said: "We are listening very carefully to president Preval and the voices of the Haitian people as to what our next steps should be."

Clinton promised US help in ensuring that homeless Haitians get the shelter they so desperately need before the rainy season begins in earnest in a few months.

She highlighted the need to provide farmers with fertilizer and seeds and suggested that other countries join the US in extending favorable tariffs to Haiti to boost struggling Haitian factories.

Preval lamented the "shoddy construction" that was blamed for so many deaths and suggested that the rebuilding effort should focus as well on the long-neglected provinces outside the capital.

"Today, we are faced with a historical situation that will allow us to rebuild, refound this country," he said.

"In the past, everything had been concentrated and focused on the capital, where the political and economic elites of the country live, and the rest of the country was neglected.

"That?s why so many people came to Haiti, into Port-au-Prince, in the illusory quest for work that did not exist, and that is why there?s so much shoddy construction, which does not comply with standards, and that?s why there were so many casualties."

"The recovery of Haiti will take a long time," he added.

Source: AFP

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