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16 Feb 2006 13:07
René Préval, who was declared Haiti’s new President on Thursday, has pledged to tackle the Caribbean country’s rampant poverty and seek a national dialogue, though he was yet to announce a clear programme.
During his electoral campaign, Préval had asked voters to judge him on his performance during his 1996 to 2001 presidency, when he built schools, roads and public squares.
Like his former ally Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who resigned the presidency and fled the country in 2004, Préval enjoys widespread support among the poor, who make up 77% of the 8,5-million population.
He has said that he would launch a national programme to combat poverty and social marginalisation.
“If those who have, begin to invest in the education of the weakest among us, they would be grateful,” he said in a recent Agence France-Presse interview.
“Children must be taken off the streets. Weapons must be taken from the hands of children and replaced with pens and books,” he said.
“That is how we will harmonise relations between the rich and the poor,” he said, calling for “social and economic reconciliation”.
“The rich are cloistered in their walled villas and the poor are crammed into slums and own nothing.
The gap is too big,” he said.
He has called for “national dialogue and permanent consultation”.
Préval (63) has also said he wants to set up modern democratic institutions, strengthen the state of law and battle corruption.
On the economic front, Préval plans to promote agricultural reforms and investments to boost production in the countryside.
He also wants to reform judicial institutions, and boost the capacity of the ill-equipped and understaffed police force which is currently struggling to battle organised crime and political violence.
Préval has acknowledged the United Nations Stabilisation Mission for Haiti (Minustah) will need to remain in Haiti for a while.
The international force was deployed in 2004 after Aristide fled the country amid mounting turmoil, and now comprises 6Â 500 military and 2Â 000 police. Minustah’s mandate was extended this week for another six months.
“There are too many military in this mission. We need more police,” Préval said.
He has said he would launch a national disarmament programme. Aid agencies say there are 210Â 000 illegal weapons alone in Port-au-Prince, where 270 hijackings were reported in December and January, and where gun battles were frequent.
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