Haiti president talks reconciliation with ex-leaders

PORT-AU-PRINCE,  (Reuters) – Haitian President Michel  Martelly
sought to rally prominent political figures behind him  on Wednesday, meeting with two former presidents in an effort  to encourage reconciliation among past rivals.

Martelly, who swept to the presidency by winning an  election runoff in March, held separate meetings with former  President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and former dictator  Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier at their private residences in  Port-au-Prince.

He said he had proposed the creation of a council of former  Haitian presidents he hoped would assist in building consensus  in a country often torn by political faction-fighting, and  still struggling to recover from a devastating 2010  earthquake.

“As president, I want to work with you and we have to work  together,”
Many Haitians have called repeatedly for the country’s  divided political class to find common ground to help lift  Haiti out of its longtime status as the poorest country in the  Americas.
Notorious for decades of dictatorship, corruption and  instability, Haiti is facing a huge reconstruction task after  last year’s earthquake and a cholera epidemic.

Martelly, a former pop star with no previous government  experience, took office in May. He is facing the challenge of  governing with a parliament dominated by rival political  parties.
Aristide returned home to Haiti in March after seven years  in exile. The former Roman Catholic priest was ousted from  power in 2004 in an armed rebellion but still commands a loyal  following among poor Haitians.

Since his return, Aristide has generally avoided public  appearances and commenting on local politics.

“I am withdrawing gradually from active politics,” Aristide  said. “But I remain open to help.”

Speaking to reporters before their meeting, Martelly  acknowledged previous political differences with Aristide.

‘A NEW PROJECT’

Martelly also sat down for a private meeting with Duvalier  in a private hillside villa overlooking Port-au-Prince.

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