HAITI HAS A NEW PM: Senate Approved Ericq Pierre.

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Haitian senate ratifies candidate for prime minister.

Wed May 7, 2008 11:45pm EDT
By Joseph Guyler Delva

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti took a step toward installing a new government on Wednesday as the Senate ratified nominee Ericq Pierre for prime minister, more than a month after violent protests over rising food prices that led to the ouster of the old government.

The Senate voted 17-0 with two abstentions to approve Pierre, an adviser with the Inter-American Development Bank. His appointment will not become final until he is approved by the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house in Haiti's Parliament.

Pierre would replace Jacques Edouard Alexis, who was fired by the Senate on April 12 after a week of food riots that killed at least six people.

Senators said Alexis had not done enough to ramp up national food production and lower the cost of living in the poorest country in the Americas.

The Senate's ratification of Pierre came just two days after slum leaders in Les Cayes, the southern city where the food riots began, threatened more violent protests if parliament did not install a new government within one week.

"We have made a step forward, so now it is up to the Chamber to do its part," Sen. Rudy Heriveaux said after the vote. "We believe that Ericq Pierre can help bring solutions to the current problems."

Haitians say the cost of some staples such as rice, beans and flour has doubled in the last few months.

Many of Haiti's nearly 9 million people live on less than $2 a day and malnutrition is rampant.

The impoverished Caribbean nation is among a number of poor countries that have been rattled by violence over escalating food prices blamed on growing demand in Asia, diversion of crops for biofuel, record oil prices and market speculation.

The unrest in Haiti, which began in early April in Les Cayes and spread quickly to the capital and other towns and cities, has hindered the efforts of President Rene Preval to establish a stable democracy.

Haiti has seen little but political upheaval and brutal dictatorship since it threw off French rule in a slave revolt more than 200 years ago.

There was no immediate word on when the lower house would take up the ratification of Pierre, a 63-year-old agronomist and agricultural economist picked by Preval to succeed Alexis.

Preval, who took office in 2006, also served as president from 1996 to 2001 and is the only elected Haitian leader to serve a full term and successfully hand over power to a democratically elected successor.

In his first term, it took Preval 21 months to put a new government in place after then-Prime Minister Rosny Smarth resigned in June 1997.

(Editing by Jim Loney and Jackie Frank)

Hispanolayosoy, May 8 2008, 9:55 AM

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