May 5, 2008 / 9:07 PM / 11 years ago

Haiti riot instigators set deadline to install PM

By Joseph Guyler Delva

LES CAYES, Haiti, May 5 (Reuters) - Slum leaders in the southern town of Les Cayes who started Haiti’s recent food riots handed lawmakers an ultimatum on Monday to install a new government within a week or face more protests.

Jean Rene Frazil, an organizer of last month’s street demonstrations, told Haitian President Rene Preval and parliament that renewed protests could be more violent than last month’s unrest across the impoverished Caribbean country.

"Preval and parliament have no more than one week to install a new prime minister and a new government," Frazil, 28, told Reuters. "Otherwise, we’ll take to the streets again and it will be much worse than what happened during the past protests."

Parliamentary leaders were not immediately available for comment on the threat.

At least six people were killed in April in a week of unrest that spread from Les Cayes to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other cities. Five of the deaths occurred in Les Cayes, where rock-throwing protesters clashed with U.N. peacekeepers and looted businesses and food warehouses.

Days later, the Senate fired Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, blaming him for failing to increase national food production and lower the cost of living.

Preval nominated a possible successor, Inter-American Development Bank senior adviser Ericq Pierre, on April 27. He must be ratified by parliament.

Haiti was among a number of poor nations struck by food riots as prices for rice, beans, flour and other staples skyrocketed due to rising demand in Asia, diversion of food crops for biofuels, bad weather and market speculation.

‘WE CAN DO IT AGAIN IF NECESSARY’

The unrest shook Preval’s efforts to establish a stable democracy in Haiti, ravaged by political upheaval and brutal dictatorships since it overthrew French rule in a slave revolt more than 200 years ago.

On April 12 Preval announced a plan to lower the price of rice by about 15 percent. But hungry Haitians, many of whom live on less than $2 a day, said the move was not enough.

"We did it last time and we can do it again if necessary," Frazil said angrily, referring to the early April protests, as he stood in the middle of about two dozen people in the slum of La Savane, where the deadly riots started.

Several chanted anti-government slogans and promised to turn the town upside down if the deadline was not met.

"A new prime minister is long overdue," Jose Pierre, 30, said. "When a starving population is angry, anything can happen. They’d better do something now before it’s too late."

The seaside neighborhood of La Savane is the poorest slum in Haiti’s southern region, where households often consist of large groups of people with too little to eat.

"I have 10 children. I cannot send them to school and I cannot feed them because I am not working," said Jacqueline Emile, 52. "I would like the government to help me."

Slum leaders called on Preval to set up community food warehouses and canteens, professional schools, health centers and to create jobs for young people to help halt rising crime.

"Our decision is that our children should have a better future and should not inherit this situation of absolute destitution in which our fathers and mothers have lived and in which we are living today," Marc-Orel Sanon said. "We’ll fight to our last breath to change that."







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