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Powell Heads to Haiti to Boost Political Transition, Disaster Relief

Secretary of State Colin Powell goes to Haiti Wednesday to underline U.S. support for the Caribbean state's political transition, and economic recovery from disastrous floods in September.

In what will likely be his next-to-last foreign trip as Secretary of State, Mr. Powell will spend several hours in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince Wednesday on a mission aimed at giving a boost to the struggling country's interim government.

The Secretary is due to meet with interim President Boniface Alexandre and Prime Minister Gerard LaTortue, who assumed power after former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide left the country at the end of February in the face of country-wide political upheaval.

The interim administration is to give way to an elected government next year.

Efforts to restore Haiti's economy and stability were dealt a devastating blow in September, when flooding spawned by Tropical Storm Jeanne left some two thousand people dead and missing.

Mr. Powell had considered a visit in October but put it off because of the flood cleanup and renewed political violence blamed on supporters of Mr. Aristide.

At a news briefing Tuesday, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the Secretary is going ahead with the trip now to affirm U.S. support for the efforts of the interim government to bring Haitians democracy, prosperity and hope.

"The point is to go down and support the transition that Haiti is making from very difficult political and economic circumstances, to a better life for Haitians," he said. "And that involves political transition, including moving to an open political system that reflects the will of all the people of Haiti, and provides an outlet for peaceful exercise of political views by all Haitians."

The United States has been the leading donor to reconstruction and stabilization efforts in Haiti, allocating $46 million in disaster aid after the September floods, and pledging $230 million last July at a Washington donors conference that raised more than a billion dollars overall.

While in Port-au-Prince, Mr. Powell will also attend an event marking World AIDS Day, and confer with officials of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

The Brazilian-led force of more than 5,000 troops and international police officers took over security duties in June from the U.S., French, Canadian and Chilean troops who were deployed to keep order after Mr. Aristide's departure.

Mr. Powell's visit to Haiti will be his second in eight months. His only other scheduled foreign trip in advance of his expected departure from office in January will be a visit to Bulgaria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Morocco that begins next week.