President Préval appoints new prime minister

Haiti's President René Préval has asked the country's planning minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, to form a new government after Haitian senators voted to oust the previous cabinet.


AFP - President Rene Preval designated Haiti's planning minister as the next prime minister Friday, moving swiftly to fill the vacuum left by the overnight sacking of the previous government.

President Rene Preval summoned the heads of both chambers of the Congress to the national palace to inform them of his selection of Jean-Max Bellerive to head up a new government, Senate President Kelly Bastien told AFP.

"We should convene the Senate early next week for the ratification and the whole process should be completed before November 18," Bastien said.

After a 10-hour debate, 18 members in the 29-seat Senate voted just after midnight to dismiss prime minister Michele Pierre-Louis, citing her poor performance in shepherding economic recovery in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

Senators then passed a resolution asking Preval to quickly name a new prime minister who would in turn form a new cabinet.

Senators who backed Pierre-Louis, a 61-year-old former economist who had led Haiti for just over a year, boycotted the vote. Pierre-Louis also refused to attend the session, which was broadcast on radio and television.

"This session is illegal and unconstitutional," said Senator Yuri Latortue, one of the prime minister's supporters, urging fellow senators not to back the censure motion to "avoid plunging the country into another political crisis."

The United Nations mission for stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH) had called for "a new prime minister to be installed as soon as possible in order to avoid a return to instability."

The 7,000-strong, Brazilian-led mission has overseen the country since 2004 due to its recurring political and social turmoil.

"This censure motion was adopted at a critical time for political, economic and social stabilization efforts in the country," MINUSTAH said in a statement.

The mission, which paid tribute to the work accomplished by Pierre-Louis in the past 14 months, urged politicians to "work together in a spirit of solidarity and partnership to take up the many challenges and deadlines facing the country."

Just weeks ago, Pierre-Louis had called on international investors to take advantage of Haiti's improved security situation and political stability by bringing back foreign capital.

Haiti's lawmakers last year overwhelmingly approved the prime minister's political program, originally aimed at resolving a months-long stalemate sparked by the resignation of her predecessor, Jacques-Edouard Alexis.

The country was gripped by a tense standoff after Alexis was ousted in April 2008 amid riots over skyrocketing food prices.

Friday's vote is the latest major political upheaval for Haiti since Preval was elected in February 2006, following two years of turmoil sparked by the ouster of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In the last year, Haiti -- despite being battered by successive hurricanes in 2008 -- hoped to improve its flagging tourism industry, considered the key sector driving economic development in the Caribbean island nation.

Michele Montas, spokeswoman for UN chief Ban Ki-moon, said there was "absolutely no relationship" between the political turmoil and MINUSTAH's mandate.

She expressed "legitimate concerns" over Haiti potentially entering a new phase of instability.

"However, it is a decision taken by the Haitian Senate and what the consequences will be, we'll see, it will depend on how fast the new government is named and whether there is any instability at all is to be determined by what's going to happen in the near future."

Seventy percent of Haiti's population lives on less than two dollars per day and half of its 8.5 million people are unemployed.

Many Haitians fear a return to political violence or to bloody feuds between drug trafficking gangs if the UN mission leaves the country.

"We are here to guarantee security so that other agencies and institutions, including the government, can allow the country to take care of itself," MINUSTAH's military commander, Brazilian General Floriano Peixoto, told AFP in July.


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