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Haiti lawmakers vote to oust prime minister in wake of deadly price protests

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitian lawmakers on Saturday dismissed Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, hoping to defuse widespread anger over 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. police officer from Nigeria was shot and killed Saturday afternoon after the prime minister's dismissal, mission spokeswoman Sophie Boutaud de la Combe said.

The police officer 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 $2 a day and chronic hunger had become unbearable in recent months.

The rage that erupted in violent clashes with U.N. peacekeepers and looting across Haiti 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 trash bin 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 said 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.

Some Haitians 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.

Haiti lawmakers vote to oust prime minister in wake of deadly price protests 04/12/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 10:32am]
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