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17982: (Chamberlain) Caribbean leaders to meet with Haitian opposition (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Leaders from several
Caribbean nations will meet with Haitian opposition leaders next week to
try to resolve Haiti's increasingly tense political stalemate, Trinidad's
foreign minister said on Thursday.
     "We are hoping that we will be able to persuade the opposition to
shift from their very hard-line stance, namely that President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide must go before anything moves forward again in Haiti," Trinidad
and Tobago Foreign Minister Knowlson Gift said.
     He said Haiti's opposition leaders had agreed to meet in Nassau on
Wednesday with the prime ministers of the Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Lucia and
Trinidad and Tobago. The meeting was organized by the Caribbean Community
regional bloc, which recently sent a fact-finding mission to Haiti.
     Several people have been killed in recent months when increasingly
large anti-government marches were attacked by pro-Aristide gunmen.
     The government blamed the opposition for the bloodshed while
demonstrators accused Aristide of corruption and human rights violations
and have called for his departure.
     Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, was hugely popular when he
became Haiti's first democratically elected leader in 1991. He was deposed
soon afterward but restored to power by a U.S.-led invasion after three
years in exile.
     He was re-elected in 2000 but his popularity has waned because of
allegations his party committed fraud in that ballot, and because of
accusations of corruption and violence.
     The unresolved dispute over the 2000 vote has prevented a new ballot
from being held. The terms of most Haitian legislators expired on Monday,
immobilizing parliament.
     On Wednesday, Aristide called for new parliamentary elections within
six months, but opposition leaders said there were inadequate safeguards to
assure free and fair ballot.
     Aristide met with CARICOM officials and with U.S. President George W.
Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell during last week's Summit of the
Americas in Mexico. Gift said the group urged Aristide to be more
accommodating "in listening to the other side."
     Gift said the other leaders told Aristide, "You've got to do
something, this is about your last chance. You cannot let this opportunity
slip by."