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New Haitian Prime Minister Says 2-Year Transition Needed Before Free Elections Can be Held - 2004-03-12


Newly appointed Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue says the strife-torn Caribbean nation will need a two-year transition period before free elections can be held.

In an interview published Friday, in the New York Times newspaper, the Haitian prime minister said he wants to provide equal opportunity to all political parties and all candidates. He emphasized he wants to create a Haitian government of independent-minded technocrats.

Mr. Latortue said finding a new, permanent residence for exiled former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide is a crucial first step in healing the country. Mr. Latortue also said the thousands of pro and anti-Aristide militants currently roaming Haiti must be disarmed.

But Mr. Latortue said Friday, he has called Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson to complain that Jamaica's invitation to Mr. Aristide to stay there for eight to 10 weeks is "an unfriendly gesture that could create tensions." He says Mr. Patterson assured him the invitation was a purely humanitarian gesture.

Former president Aristide, who has been in exile in the Central African Republic since his departure from Haiti early last week, plans to fly to Jamaica with his wife next week for a stay with their two young children. Prime Minister Patterson announced the visit Thursday, but insisted Mr. Aristide is not seeking political asylum in Jamaica.

Mr. Aristide accuses the United States of kidnapping him and forcing him to resign. U.S. officials have strongly denied the accusations.

U.S. Marines in Haiti reported Friday, coming under gunfire in the Saint Martin area of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The incident came as multi-national troops and Haitian police started disarming Haitians carrying illegal arms in an effort to reduce violence.

Thursday, two Haitians were killed and at least six others wounded during a confrontation between police and Aristide supporters.

Meanwhile, Canadian authorities say they are holding Mr. Artistide's former security chief, Oriel Jean, after arresting him at the Toronto airport Wednesday night.

Mr. Jean, who was traveling from the Dominican Republic with his wife, is being detained on suspicion of crimes against humanity.

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