Tuesday, May 17, 2011


(AFP) –

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Newly sworn-in President Michel Martelly vowed Saturday to "change Haiti," promising to restore order and confidence in a country struggling to emerge from one of the most destructive earthquakes of modern times.

"This is a new Haiti, open for business now," Martelly declared, standing before the ruins of the country's presidential palace as thousands outside its wrought iron gates cheered him on.

Speaking in French and Creole, he pledged to restore security for investors, end political instability, and foster development "so we can emerge from our misery."

"We are going to change Haiti," he promised.

As a reminder of the monumental task ahead of Martelly, the toppled white dome of the presidential palace could be seen peeping over the grandstand from which he addressed foreign and Haitian dignitaries, and the many poor, young Haitians who elected him March 20.

Much of the capital was levelled in a 7.0 magnitude quake in January 2010 that killed more than 225,000 people and left one in seven Haitians homeless, a devastating disaster for a country already the poorest in the Americas.

"The march to victory will be long and painful," Martelly acknowledged.

The bald, onetime carnival singer took the oath of office hours earlier, capping an astonishing rise to power for a man with a popular following but no previous political experience.

Moments before he was sworn in, a power outage plunged into darkness the temporary parliament building where the ceremony was held.

Lit up by the flash of news cameras as he raised his right hand, Martelly intoned: "I swear before God and the nation to faithfully obey the constitution and the laws of the republic."

Outgoing president Rene Preval then removed the blue and red presidential sash, which was passed to Martelly in the first democratic transfer of power from one president to a political opponent in the country's turbulent history.

In a speech punctuated by applause and cheers, Martelly made clear that a top priority will be to restore confidence in government and he served notice to the country's police and judicial authorities: "No more injustice."

"We are going to re-establish the authority of the state," he said. "Authority and justice must shine on the entire country."

Thousands of cheering supporters massed outside the palace, welcoming Martelly with signs that said "Vive Tet Kale," or "Long Live Baldy" in Creole.

Pressed against the fence, Marie-Edith Saintil, made a plea to the new president.

"We are unemployed, we are hungry, we are faced with all sorts of problems, we are waiting for you to do what is good for us," she said.

Joseph Williams added: "We are waiting for the change the president has promised. He must be different from other presidents and give a place and standing to the young."

Martelly, a political novice who gained fame as a raucous performer known as "Sweet Micky," has his work cut out for him.

Sixteen months after the earthquake, the pace of reconstruction is painfully slow for hundreds of thousands of traumatized survivors who lost everything and are forced to subsist in squalid tent cities around the still-ruined capital.

Half of its 10 million people live off less than $2 a day.

But Martelly's inauguration fills a leadership vacuum at the top and was expected to encourage foreign governments to release aid that has been sidelined by a fractious election process marred by fraud and outbreaks of violence.

One important guest was former US president Bill Clinton, the UN envoy who co-chairs the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission -- set up after the earthquake to hold the purse strings of some $10 billion in pledged aid.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and a dozen heads of state attended the ceremony, including President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Conspicuously absent were ex-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the shantytown priest who usurped him and became the country's first democratically elected president. Officials said they were not invited to the ceremony.

Their return from exile earlier this year reopened old wounds, and brought a new level of uncertainty to the political situation.

Martelly will require enormous political talents to survive the often treacherous currents of Haitian politics.

He has just three members of his own fledgling Repons Peyizan party to work with in parliament as he looks to forge deals with Unity, Preval's ruling party which firmed its grip on power in the legislative elections.

First-round election results led to deadly riots in December after Martelly was said to have finished third and out of the race. An outcry led by the United States ushered in a team of international monitors who found massive fraud in favor of the ruling party candidate.

Preval's handpicked protege Jude Celestin was eliminated from the race in February and Martelly was reinstated to compete in a long-delayed run-off against former first lady Mirlande Manigat.

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