Haiti prepares to inaugurate new president amid heavy security

U.N. peacekeepers increased patrols and workers swept trash-strewn streets Saturday as foreign dignitaries began arriving for the inauguration of Haitian President-elect Rene Preval.

Delegations from some 40 countries were expected for Sunday's swearing-in ceremony, the last step in the impoverished Caribbean nation's return to democratic rule two years after a revolt toppled former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Preval, a former Aristide ally and champion of Haiti's poor, has pledged to unite the country's fractured society and restore the peace that vanished after Aristide fled into exile.

But observers say the 63-year-old former president will have to overcome big challenges, including a corrupt state bureaucracy, a wrecked economy and roiling insecurity.

The U.N. envoy to Haiti, Juan Gabriel Valdes, said one of Preval's main priority should be fixing Haiti's broken justice system.

"In Haiti, impunity is quasi total for many criminals who roam free while the innocent and those wrongly accused of a crime stagnate in prisons," Valdes wrote in an editorial published Saturday in the Canadian newspaper Le Devoir.

In the capital, work crews cleaned trash from gutters as 4,500 U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police in armored personnel carriers and on foot began cordoning off downtown areas where the ceremony will be held.

Preval will take the oath of office before members of Haiti's parliament, which was only installed this week. He will then attend a special Mass at the capital's cathedral before addressing citizens on the lawn of the national palace.

Jela Altius, a 31-year-old food vendor, said she wants Preval to improve security.

"We want to be able to go out at any time of day and not worry that something is going to happen to us," Altius said.

Among the foreign officials who arrived Saturday was Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean, who was born in Haiti.

Experts say Preval's skills at governing and healing Haiti's deep social rifts will largely determine if the former French colony can move toward stability or remain mired in turmoil and despair.

Preval, who also ruled Haiti from 1996 to 2001, has begun reaching out to rival political parties in a bid to cobble together a legislative coalition in Haiti's parliament, which has members from 16 political parties. He has also sought ties with members of Haiti's business elite, some of whom opposed Aristide and campaigned against Preval.

"We're hoping he'll do what he says he will. If so, Haiti will be off to a good start," said Charles Henri Baker, a wealthy industrialist and the third-place presidential finisher, reports AP.


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