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Struggling Haiti faces crucial week in politics

Tunisia, Lebanon show Mideast unstable: Netanyahu
Jerusalem (AFP) Jan 16, 2011 - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that regional political instability shows the Jewish state must seek ironclad security clauses in any peace treaty with the Palestinians. While not referring to any state by name, his comments at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting came after a popular revolt against Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the collapse of the Lebanese government. "The region in which we live is an unstable region, everybody can see that today. We see it in several places in the broader Middle East," said Netanyahu. "There can be changes in governments that we do not foresee today but will take place tomorrow. "The lesson is that we have to stick to the principles of peace and security in any agreement that we make," said the Israeli premier. "We do not know if such an agreement will be honoured but we shall increase the chances of it being honoured if there are solid and serious security arrangements."

Tunisian-born Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said there was a danger a political vacuum in Tunisia might be filled by radical Islam. "Today there is a great worry that Islamic movements which until now have been outside the law should not return," he told Israeli army radio. Others were more sanguine. "We are closely following the situation, but if there is a danger of a rising tide of Islamic elements we see no sign of it at the moment," an Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity. Following the overthrow of Ben Ali, there have been demonstrations of solidarity with the Tunisian protest movement, in the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Yemen, among other places. "The events in Tunisia encourage others who aspire to drive out dictators or overthrow authoritarian regimes," said the Israeli official.

Speaking to reporters at the cabinet meeting on Sunday, Shalom said the events disproved the perception that all the Middle East's problems stem from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "What is happening in Tunisia is a domestic affair, what is happening in Lebanon is a domestic affair and what is happening in Sudan is a domestic affair, with no connection to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute," he told reporters. "This explodes the myth that this dispute is the root of all the instability in the Middle East," said Shalom. Shalom said he himself had been warmly welcomed to Tunisia. "I myself visited Tunis at the head of large delegation of ministers, members of parliament, journalists and business people and we were received very well," he said. "Israelis have visited there for years." The foreign ministry said about 20 Israeli tourists visiting Tunisia had been evacuated as a precaution. Israel and Tunisia established low-level diplomatic relations in 1994 but Tunis suspended ties in October 2000, with the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation. It is, however, still a popular destination for Israeli visitors, according to Claude Sitbon, an Israeli historian of Tunisia's Jewish community.
by Staff Writers
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Jan 16, 2011
The tears have barely dried from Haiti's earthquake anniversary and now the deeply troubled Caribbean country faces the urgent task this week of defusing an explosive election crisis.

Sunday was supposed to have been the day Haitians voted in a runoff to chose a new president to lead them through the most challenging period in their history.

However, the runoff was postponed after the first round ended in bitter dispute.

Instead, candidates, election officials, the government and international experts were spending the weekend debating which candidates should even appear on the ballot.

At the center of the debate is a set of recommendations from the Organization of American States, a regional body, that was handed to President Rene Preval on Thursday.

The report has yet to be published but a leaked copy revealed that the OAS is pushing for Preval's preferred candidate, Jude Celestin, to drop from the race.

According to the OAS, Celestin's vote tally in a chaotic first round of the election in November was padded by fraud so that in reality he placed not second, but only third.

Reshuffling the results would put his rival Michel Martelly, a popular singer, into second place to challenge Mirlande Manigat in the runoff. Manigat, a former first lady, garnered 31 percent of the vote among 19 candidates in the first round.

Accepting this is thought to be difficult for Preval, who had hoped to see an ally take over his job. In Haiti's turbulent, often deadly politics, an ex-president needs all the security guarantees he can get.

International pressure is mounting on Preval to back the OAS recommendations and for Celestin to quit.

"Now it's time to recognize the consequences of the definitive results of the first round of voting so that they reflect the choice expressed by voters," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

But in a country with a long history of dictators, coups, and bloody street protests, the will of the voters is easily drowned out.

Only hours after the OAS report had been handed in, armed men clashed with police and set fire to gasoline-drenched tires in several parts of the capital Port-au-Prince.

Although order was quickly restored, the unrest served as a warning.

The coming week could prove pivotal.

The head of the OAS mission, Colin Granderson, said talks between monitors and the government "will wrap up early next week and the report will be published at that time."

Once the government has finished with the report, it will be passed to the Provisional Electoral Council, which has the authority to decide which candidate -- Celestin or Martelly -- will face Manigat in the runoff.

"The CEP should receive this report very shortly," Councilor Ginette Cherubin told Le Nouvelliste newspaper Saturday.

In a long interview, she gave little indication of the council's position.

"The electoral institution will certainly take these recommendations into account," she said. "How much -- all or just partly? That will only be possible to say after the analysis."

Cherubin said "the CEP is under pressure to find an adequate response."

But in an indication of the defensiveness of Haitian officials in this tense period, she lashed out at "certain foreign partners" for making statements that were "very provocative and with strong neo-colonialist overtones."

The task facing the next president is unenviable. Haiti's economy and infrastructure, already in tatters before last year's earthquake, are in desperate condition. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80 percent of its population living in poverty.

The Haitian government estimates that 300,000 people died in the earthquake last January. More than three quarters of a million people still live in tent camps after losing their homes, a deadly cholera outbreak has yet to be brought under control, and an entire generation of children faces a deep crisis in education.

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Marine Le Pen: new face of French far right
Tours, France (AFP) Jan 16, 2011
As well as daughter of the French National Front's founder, Marine Le Pen is also a seasoned politician who hopes, as its new leader, to polish the image of a party seen as racist. Le Pen has angered traditionalists who saw her as an upstart benefiting from her father's position. But she has won her political spurs, and on Sunday was officially named his successor as the leader of the Nation ... read more

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