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IN THE NEWS - Haiti's Political Crisis - 2004-02-21

Broadcast: February 21, 2004

This is Steve Ember with In the News, in VOA Special English.

The Organization of American States, the O-A-S, met Thursday in Washington to discuss the violence in Haiti. Rebels are threatening to seize the capital, Port-au-Prince, unless President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigns.

The O-A-S Permanent Council passed a resolution. It calls on Mister Aristide to honor human rights and to talk with the political opposition. It also urges armed groups to disarm. The American ambassador to the O-A-S said the government in Haiti acted in undemocratic and irresponsible ways in recent years.

The rebels call themselves the Front for the Liberation and National Reconstruction of Haiti. They include former Aristide supporters. At least fifty-five people have been killed in two weeks of violence.

The United States, Canada, France, the United Nations and others are working on a plan for a political solution. American Secretary of State Colin Powell said the proposal does not include calls for President Aristide to resign. His term ends in February of two-thousand-six.

American officials say the proposal clears the way for a peace plan by the CARICOM group of Caribbean nations. Under the plan, Mister Aristide would have to share power with a new prime minister and an advisory council. This group would organize new elections.

Members of the opposition refuse to take part in new elections unless the president resigns. Mister Aristide says he is ready to die to defend his country. The United States is urging Americans to leave Haiti.

Armed groups once supported by the government began a rebellion in northern Haiti on February fifth. They control several cities and towns, including the fourth largest city. They have cut off the second largest city from most of the country.

Mister Aristide became the first freely elected leader of Haiti in nineteen-ninety. The military overthrew him the next year. The United States sent twenty-thousand troops to Haiti in nineteen-ninety-four to return him to power. Mister Aristide later dismissed the army.

The president has faced accusations of dishonesty and political violence. Tensions have risen since his party won legislative elections in two-thousand. Observers said the elections were unfair. During the campaign, Mister Aristide promised to improve conditions for the eight-million people in Haiti. But other countries suspended millions of dollars in aid after the elections.

Now, there are fears of a food crisis. Many Haitians may try to flee the country in unsafe boats. That happened after the overthrow in nineteen-ninety-one.

President Aristide has asked for international help. The United States said a small military team would be in Haiti on Saturday to examine the security situation. Canada and France have offered to send peacekeepers to Haiti, but only after the violence has stopped.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.