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Haiti's Interim PM Repeats Pledge to Hold Elections Next Year - 2004-05-06

Haiti's interim Prime Minister, Gerard Latortue, has visited the Organization of American States (OAS), in Washington, to reiterate his intention to guide the chronically unstable Caribbean country to free and democratic elections at the end of next year. Mr. Latortue's visit comes as some O.A.S. officials express skepticism about his plans for restoring stability to Haiti. VOA's Robert Daguillard has details.

Gerard Latortue was paying his first visit to O.A.S. headquarters since a council of prominent Haitians appointed him transitional prime minister in early March.

The 69-year-old former U.N. development official took his post after weeks of fighting between gunmen loyal to then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and armed gangs opposed to him, which eventually forced Mr. Aristide to leave Haiti.

On Wednesday, Mr. Latortue met with Secretary of State Colin Powell to request additional economic aid for his impoverished country, where more than half the population is unemployed and 30 percent lives on less than one dollar a day.

On Thursday, the prime minister, who has no ties to any political party, spoke about political reform and good governance. Speaking through an interpreter, he told ambassadors from the 34 O.A.S. countries about his plans for running Haiti, until his team makes way for an elected government in February 2006.

"One of the main tasks of the government consists in working actively to return to a normal, regular operation of the democratic institutions," he stated. "As you may well guess, this goes through the holding of free, honest, transparent and democratic elections."

Speaking for the Pan-American body, O.A.S. Deputy Secretary General Luigi Einaudi urged Mr. Latortue to keep his pledge and organize free elections, noting that Haiti has known few of these in its 200-year history.

However, Mr. Einaudi expressed concern about some of the prime minister's policies since taking office.

He noted that in March, Mr. Latortue called the gunmen who opposed President Aristide "freedom fighters," while the United States and other countries have referred to these former rebels as "thugs" and criminals."

"Our member states favor inclusive and non-violent solutions," he added. "They believe that there can be no place for armed groups operating outside the law and national tasks of reconciliation."

Mr. Einaudi also expressed regret that efforts by the O.A.S. and the Caricom group of Caribbean states, earlier this year, failed to find a political compromise between then-President Aristide and Haiti's political opposition.

Caricom, in particular, has criticized the United States, Canada and France for waiting to send a peacekeeping force to Haiti, until after a rebel advance on the capital made Mr. Aristide's situation untenable.

The group said the overthrow of Mr. Aristide, who had been elected, set a dangerous precedent for the region.

The Caribbean group still has not recognized Mr. Latortue's government.