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Aristide Agrees to CARICOM Proposals to Resolve Political Crisis - 2004-01-26

Haiti's president says he has agreed to proposals from the Caribbean Community to end his country's political crisis.

Following a meeting with the Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie, Haiti's President Jean Bertrand Aristide said he supported the major points of a plan from the Caribbean Community to end Haiti's nearly four-year-long political crisis.

The plan, which was put together last week at a meeting of CARICOM leaders, calls for a consensus government to be established, a schedule for legislative elections, and the disarmament of armed gangs who have attacked Mr. Aristide's opponents in demonstrations during the past few months.

Mr. Aristide said he would support the formation of a new government that would include members of the opposition, so long as it contains members of his Lavalas Party. Opposition figures in Haiti say they support elements of the CARICOM plan, but they still want Mr. Aristide to leave office, something he says he will not do before his term officially expires in two years.

A coalition of opposition politicians, business people, students, and journalists have been organizing large street protests during the past few months with the aim of forcing Mr. Aristide from office. Haiti's opposition says Mr. Aristide has done nothing to alleviate poverty and is allowing members of his government to harass and intimidate government opponents - charges Mr. Aristide and his supporters deny.

Kesner Pharel, a leading Haitian economist, says the on-going political crisis is hurting Haiti's economy and its people.

"These people are living in a very difficult situation," he said. "The middle class has been wiped out and so now you have a brain drain in the country. A lot of well-educated Haitians have gone to Canada and the United States because they just cannot live in this situation anymore."

Haiti's political crisis stems from legislative elections in May of 2000 that Mr. Aristide's Lavalas Party won, but which international observers called deeply flawed. Since then, Mr. Aristide and Haiti's opposition have been unable to agree on when or how to re-schedule elections.

Earlier this month, parliamentary activity came to halt when most legislators' terms expired without agreement on the issue.