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Powell 'Disturbed' by Situation in Haiti - 2004-01-08


U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has expressed deep concern about the continuing political crisis in Haiti. During a Washington news conference, he urged President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to work with the country's Roman Catholic church leaders, who are proposing a compromise plan to end the impasse between the government and opposition.

Mr. Powell's comments came in advance of next week's hemispheric Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, Mexico, where the volatile situation in Haiti is likely to be a major issue, at least in sideline discussions.

The impoverished Caribbean state has been in a political stalemate since disputed parliamentary elections in May of 2000. Violent clashes between supporters and opponents of President Aristide have flaired since last September, leaving at least two people dead this week alone.

Roman Catholic leaders are pushing a compromise plan calling for the country's congress to name a broadly-representative council to advise the president, and pave the way for new elections that the opposition will take part in.

In his remarks here, Mr. Powell said U.S. diplomats are pressing both Mr. Aristide and his political opponents to work with the church leaders.

"I'm very disturbed about the situation in Haiti. And we are pressing President Aristide to take the opportunity presented by the bishops' proposal that would bring some order to the political process, and provide a constitutional way forward so that the people of Haiti can express their will," he said. "And so we're encouraging President Aristide and the opposition to take advantage of the bishops' proposal, and I'm sure this will be a subject of discussion [at the summit] next week as well."

Mr. Aristide was re-elected in late 2000, in voting boycotted by the opposition. He has rejected opposition demands that he step down for alleged misrule and corruption, and protests against him have been broken up forcibly by police and organized groups of Aristide supporters.

The State Department last month deplored what it said was the violent suppression of peaceful protests in Haiti and accused the government of employing "armed thugs" to break up demonstrations.

The political crisis has prompted the United States and other countries to withhold most non-humanitarian aid to Haiti, and the unrest has also curbed badly-needed private investment there.