Sunday, April 13, 2008

Haiti News Bulletin: Senators Vote to Fire Prime Minister

Haitian senators vote to fire PM

Mr Alexis became prime minister of a coalition government in 2006

The Haitian Senate has voted to dismiss Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis following widespread rioting earlier this week over soaring food prices.

A special session of the upper chamber backed a motion calling on President Rene Preval to appoint a new cabinet.

The vote came shortly after Mr Preval announced an emergency plan to reduce the price of rice by more than 15%.

In the capital, Port-au-Prince, the scene of deadly food riots earlier, a UN peacekeeper from Nigeria was killed.

A UN spokeswoman in Haiti said the soldier was shot dead Saturday afternoon, but that UN troops had not returned fire.

At least five people died in the riots over food prices earlier this week.

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. Most Haitians earn no more than $2 a day, and they have struggled to feed themselves as the prices of rice, beans and fruit have risen by 50% in the last year.

Earlier this month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that the food crisis threatened the Caribbean nation's fragile security.

President Preval appointed Mr Alexis as prime minister of a six-party coalition government in May 2006. He had survived a no-confidence vote in February over his handling of the economy.

Rice reduction

Reflecting widespread public anger at the rising cost of basic foodstuffs in the country, 16 of Haiti's 27 senators said they had no confidence in Mr Alexis's government and instructed the president to appoint a replacement.

"Now it's my turn to play," Mr Preval said when he was told by journalists of the vote against his ally, according to the Reuters news agency.

On Thursday, opposition senators warned the president that his proposals would "not solve the immediate problems of the population" and were "too little, too late".

"It is obvious that the majority of the people don't believe any more in the capacity of your government to take courageous measures to ease the misery that the population is facing daily," they wrote.

Saturday's vote of no-confidence came shortly after Mr Preval announced a 15.7% reduction in the price of a 23kg (50lb) bag of rice from $51 to $43.

After meeting food importers at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, the president said $3 of the price cut would be paid by the private sector and the rest funded by money from international donors.

"The situation is difficult everywhere around the world, everyone has to make a sacrifice," he told a news conference.

"We are not going to lower taxes on food," he added, reiterating the government could not afford to cut revenues because it would not have enough money to pay for longer term projects to create jobs and boost agriculture.

Mr Preval made a national address on Wednesday saying the riots over food price increases earlier this week were "not going to solve the problem".

Haiti PM ousted over soaring food prices

Sunday, April 13

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) - - Haiti's prime minister was ousted Saturday in a no confidence vote after more than a week of violent demonstrations over rocketing food and fuel prices.

Just as President Rene Preval unveiled a plan to cut the price of rice by 15 percent, 16 senators in the upper house of parliament voted unanimously to censure Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis over the crisis, costing him his job leading the government.

With the 10 senators in Alexis's own party absent, the legislators reproached the prime minister for failing to respond to the needs of Haiti's 8.5 million people, 80 percent of whom live on less than two dollars a day.

The move came amid reports that UN peacekeepers fired tear gas at protesters in central Port-au-Prince and that a UN policeman dressed in civilian clothes was shot dead by unknown assailants near the capital's cathedral.

"He was a riot policeman from Nigeria," said Sophie Boutaud de la Combe, spokeswoman for the Minustah force.

Earlier Preval said that he would not block any attempt to remove Alexis. He agreed to work with senate and lower house chiefs to find a replacement.

"If parliament fires the prime minister, I will do what the constitution demands -- I will consult the two parliamentary leaders to name a new prime minister, because no party has a parliamentary majority," Preval said.

Flanked by food importers, Preval announced his plan to bring down rice prices following more than a week of protests and riots that left at least five people dead and 200 injured, according to an unofficial count.

He said the plan would cut the cost of a 50 kilogram (110 pound) bag of rice, which had doubled to 70 dollars within a week, by eight dollars (15 percent).

"It is a move the government has agreed to thanks to the three million dollars in aid provided by the international community," Preval said, adding that the government would also work to encourage more food production.

He defended Alexis as having done what he could in the face of global increases in food prices, and said it was "unfair" to place all the blame on him.

Thousands of people took to the streets around Haiti last week after the latest jump in food and fuel prices, in sometimes violent demonstrations that forced United Nations troops deployed here to intervene.

Blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers were called in to protect the presidential palace, using tear gas and firing into the air to repel demonstrators, radio reports said, while there were also reports of looting.

Preval's government was formed in 2006 after elections that followed two years of turmoil sparked by the departure of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Preval named Alexis as his prime minister, and Alexis won a vote of confidence in the lower house of parliament as recently as a month ago.

However, pressure had grown on the government in the current crisis.

Senator Jean Judnel, who backed Saturday's censure motion, said lawmakers would now "work with the president to chose a new prime minister."

"We will size up that prime minister to see if he can respond to the needs of the population," he told AFP.

"He must be able to listen to the cries of the people," Judnel said.

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