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President Aristide picks prime minister

In a move aimed at appeasing Haiti's conservative business community, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Monday picked Smarck Michel, a longtime friend, as his prime minister, a Michel aide said.

"He was chosen because the whole country knows him, and all the sectors believe in him," said the aide.

"It seems to be the choice everyone was hoping it would be," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Stan Schrager.

Michel, 57, is a gas station owner and rice importer who took business administration courses while living in New York in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Aristide's decision came after days of intense debate in the National Palace, where he has been holed up under heavy guard since he returned Oct. 15 after three years in exile.

The choice of Michel, who must be confirmed by parliament, represents an effort to appease Haiti's conservative business leaders, many of whom opposed Aristide's return.

Analysts said the business community would view Michel as a strong leader capable of standing up to Aristide and as a representative of their economic interests in the new government.

Haitian historian Georges Michel, who is not related to the nominee, said that while Haiti's conservative forces would not fully accept anyone who has been close to Aristide, Michel is "more acceptable" than other candidates.

Michel, described as a friend of Aristide's for at least 10 years, was commerce secretary during Aristide's first government that was overthrown in 1991. Michel resigned before the coup because of disputes with other government ministers, analysts said. He stayed in Haiti after Aristide was forced into exile.