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Haiti lawmakers vote to oust prime minister in wake of deadly price protests
Haiti PAP106 6890133
Haitians gather at a police barricade in front of the parliament, one carrying a photo of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his wife Mildred, in Port-au-Prince, Saturday, April 12, 2008. Haitian lawmakers voted Saturday to dismiss Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, hoping to defuse widespread anger of rising food prices that had led to days of deadly protests and looting. - photo by Associated Press
    PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitian lawmakers on Saturday dismissed Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, hoping to defuse widespread anger of rising food prices that had led to days of deadly protests and looting.
    President Rene Preval, who earlier in the day announced plans to cut the price of rice, immediately said he would seek a replacement for Alexis, who took office in 2006 with Preval’s backing to head a Cabinet meant to unite the poor and fractious nation.
    ‘‘I think that will satisfy the people,’’ said Sen. Youri Latortue following the vote in parliament in which 16 of 27 lawmakers backed Alexis’ ouster. Latortue said lawmakers ousted the prime minister because he did not boost food production and refused to set a date for the departure of U.N. peacekeepers.
    A U.N. soldier was shot and killed Saturday afternoon after the prime minister’s dismissal, mission spokeswoman Sophie Boutaud de la Combe said.
    The soldier was a member of a 1,000-strong unit that deals with riots. U.N. troops did not exchange fire, but de la Combe had no further details.
    U.N. peacekeepers called Alexis’ dismissal a ‘‘serious setback’’ and said they look forward to the early appointment of a new government, according to de la Combe.
    The prime minister’s ouster reflects frustration over soaring food prices in a nation where most people live on less than US$2 (euro1.26) a day and chronic hunger had become unbearable in recent months.
    The rage erupted in days violent clashes with U.N. peacekeepers and looting across Haiti that had abated by late Thursday, but not before leaving five people dead. Protesters even stormed the presidential palace on Tuesday, charging its main gate with a rolling dumpster and yelling for Preval to step down.
    On Saturday, about 25 people gathered outside the national palace, chanting ‘‘Aristide or death,’’ in reference to exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
    But U.N. military commander Maj. Gen. Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz told The Associated Press that calm was returning across the country, with some transportation resuming and people going back to work.
    Haiti could encounter more chaos with Alexis’ ousting, according to Eduardo Gamarra, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Center at Florida International University. He said the dismissal creates a political vacuum and that senators might now go after Preval because he has not implemented many changes.
    ‘‘President Preval has to be careful. Anytime President Preval has to engage himself speaking, he also needs to engage the private sector in his discussions,’’ said Senator Jean Hector Anacasis, a member of Preval’s Lespwa party.
    Emmanuel Joseph, a 26-year-old from the seaside slum of Cite Soleil, said residents there are still planning to protest on Monday because they are hungry.
    Some residents felt their plight would not improve regardless of the dismissal.
    ‘‘Alexis left? What’s the difference?’’ asked Jackson Aubri, a 28-year-old chicken vendor.
    The president said the price of a 50-pound (23-kilogram) bag of rice will immediately drop from US$51 (euro32) to US$43 (euro27).
    Preval said international aid money will subsidize the effort and that the private sector has agreed to knock US$3 (euro2) off the price of each bag of rice.
    Globally, food prices have risen 40 percent since mid-2007. Haiti is particularly affected because it imports nearly all of its food, including more than 80 percent of its rice. Much of its once-productive farmland has been abandoned as farmers struggle to grow crops in soil decimated by erosion, deforestation, flooding and tropical storms.
    On Friday, the U.S. State Department issued a statement banning government officials from traveling to Haiti following the violent demonstrations.
    It also advised American citizens to consider leaving the impoverished Caribbean country. The warning comes despite a general sense of calm settling over Port-au-Prince.
    ‘‘If you don’t need to stay, you might consider departing,’’ said James Ellickson-Brown, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.
    An estimated 19,000 U.S. citizens live in Haiti, most dual-nationals who live in the capital. More than 140 American citizens have been kidnapped since 2005, but few were short-term visitors, the U.S. Embassy said.