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Bill Clinton, UN chief shine spotlight on Haiti

BILL Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sought to refocus international attention on Haiti with a visit yesterday that they hope will lure more aid to keep the impoverished country from sliding back into chaos.

The former US president and the UN chief toured Haiti's run-down capital and met with officials struggling with high food prices and the enduring effects of four devastating 2008 storms. The leaders called for more foreign aid and urged Haiti's weak central government to take charge of its own development.

"We are here to mobilize international support ... but at the same time, we expect the Haitian government" to do its part, Ban said yesterday afternoon.

With both a critical, long-delayed donor's conference in Washington and elections for 12 Senate seats scheduled in April, the International Crisis Group and others have warned that Haiti's leaders must both get billions of dollars in international aid and better manage affairs at home or its short-lived period of political calm will end.

Ban and Clinton met with President Rene Preval at the national palace yesterday evening to discuss storm recovery, environmental repair and economic assistance, including credit for farmers and increasing textile production under the 2006 US trade deal "HOPE II."

In a speech, Preval recounted the "three shocks" Haiti experienced last year: high oil prices, high food prices and the storms, which he said ruined a prime opportunity to lift Haiti out of poverty.

"We now more than ever need the solidarity of the international community," Preval said.

The Haitian president has faced growing criticism for an alleged failure to lead, including not speaking out until nearly a week into last April's food price riots. The unrest led to the ouster of his prime minister, who was not replaced for months because of political bickering.

"Preval said he's providing security, but every day people are being robbed. The country is tired. We're going to make a better choice next time," said Femil Ladouceur, a 19-year-old student standing along the motorcade route.

Underscoring that tension, at least 1,000 supporters of ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party shouted outside the national palace during the meeting and held up signs displaying the Creole pun "Ban Ki-moon, Ban m Titid" - "Give me back Aristide." Earlier, hundreds demonstrated near the airport as the dignitaries arrived, waving signs reading, "Clinton, we need your help."

Lavalas candidates have all been disqualified from the elections by the government. Some supporters are threatening to hamper voting if they cannot participate.

Ban, Clinton and Haitian-American recording star Wyclef Jean met with university scholarship recipients yesterday afternoon to speak about the environmental devastation that has made Haiti prone to deadly tropical storms. Last year, storms killed nearly 800 people and ravaged the struggling nation's economy.

"Haiti was (once on) the richest island in all of the Caribbean ... because of the natural resources, because of what God had put into the land," Clinton told the students. "It can be again, because of the resources in your mind and in your heart."

Clinton, who visited Haiti as president in 1995 and again in 2003, is popular among Haiti's urban poor because Aristide was returned to power under his watch in 1994.


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