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Aristide vows to complete his mandate

Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide vowed to remain in office until his term runs out in February 2006, and charged that the rebels trying to depose him fear elections, in an interview published by The New York Times on Tuesday.

”They don’t fear me; they fear the people. And they don’t fear the people because the people are violent. They fear the people because the people are ready to vote,” Aristide told the daily outside his presidential office.

Aristide, a former priest, was ousted by a coup in 1991 and reinstated by the United States military in 1994. He is now facing a rebellion in several cities that since February 5 has cost the lives of more than 55 people.

Asked if he would step down to stop the bloodshed in his country, Aristide said: ”I will leave office [on] February 7 2006. My responsibility is precisely to prevent that from happening. What we are doing now is preventing bloodshed.”

Aristide said that after 32 coups in Haiti’s history, ”the result is what we have now: moving from misery to poverty. We need not continue moving from one coup d’état to another coup d’état, but from one elected president to another elected president.”

The president countered criticism that he broke his campaign promise to fight poverty, blaming Haiti’s continuing hardships partly on the international community for suspending $500-million of aid after the failed 2000 parliamentary elections drew charges of electoral fraud.

Equating the aid cut to an ”economic embargo”, Aristide said he still managed to improve conditions in Haiti.

”I don’t say I am the best,” he said. ”But think of what I did with nothing in terms of financial resources.”

He referred to the pro-government demonstration on February 7 in Port-au-Prince as a sign that he was reviving Haiti’s spirit.

”If last Saturday, despite the economic situation, one million marched in a peaceful way, it is because they see we are not lying to them, we are telling them the truth. Dignity, freedom and truth are linked.”

Without offering concrete evidence, Aristide said he had begun to implement the Caribbean Community plan for Haiti, which calls for Aristide to ensure opposition marches, disarm groups of pro-government militants and reform the police force.

In a press conference late on Monday, Aristide called on the international community for help with the crisis, which has seen rebels take over part of the north and centre of his country.

A few hours later, France said it was exploring the idea of sending an international peacekeeping force to Haiti.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said that France, with overseas territories both in the Caribbean and on the South American continent, was in a position rapidly to deploy resources to Haiti, and a large number of other countries were also ready to act.

The minister, whose country ruled what is now Haiti in the 18th century, also said the French government was setting up a crisis unit on the situation. — Sapa-AFP

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