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US Urges Haitian President to Start Dialogue With Opposition Leaders - 2004-01-14


The United States has made a top-level appeal to Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to begin dialogue with opposition leaders to end the country's political crisis. The issue figured in President Bush's Monday meeting with Caribbean leaders, including the Haitian president, at the hemispheric summit in Mexico.

The Bush meeting at the Monterrey summit with the leaders of the Caribbean grouping, Caricom, was largely devoted to trade and economic issues.

But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the president and Secretary of State Colin Powell had brief exchanges with Mr. Aristide, in which they "very strongly" encouraged him to engage in dialogue with the opposition to try to end the country's nearly four-year-long political stalemate.

Haiti has been in turmoil since disputed parliamentary voting in May 2000, with opposition leaders refusing to take part in further legislative elections unless Mr. Aristide steps down.

Violent clashes between opposition protesters and Aristide supporters, sometimes backed by police, have increased in recent days, prompting State Department expressions of concern and U.S. calls for support for mediation efforts by Haiti's Roman Catholic church leaders.

Spokesman Boucher said there was broad backing among leaders in Monterrey for a political dialogue in Haiti.

"It's very, very important for the government to enter into dialogue with the opposition, to try to solve these problems peacefully, to take advantage of the proposals and suggestions being made by the bishops or the intercession of the Caricom nations and the help that they can offer, in order to resolve the political turmoil in Haiti for the benefit of Haiti's people," he said. "It was a very clear message and I think there was a lot of support for that kind of message among other nations in Monterrey as well."

Roman Catholic leaders have proposed that Mr. Aristide step down in favor of a broad-based transitional governing council that would run the country until new elections are held within two years.

Mr. Aristide refuses to resign. But on his return from Monterrey, he proposed new legislative elections within six months, a span opposition leaders said would be insufficient to organize a proper vote.

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