Khamis, 7 April 2011

The Malaysian Insider :: World

The Malaysian Insider :: World

Pop star reborn as statesman vows renewal in Haiti

Posted: 07 Apr 2011 06:09 PM PDT

President-elect Michel Martelly speaks during an interview with Reuters in Port-au-Prince on April 6, 2011. Martelly wants to transform Haiti from development basket case to Caribbean success story. — Reuters pic

PORT-AU-PRINCE, April 8 — President-elect Michel Martelly wants to transform Haiti from development basket case to Caribbean success story, a makeover as ambitious as the provocative pop star's own reincarnation as head of state.

"With my talents as a communicator, I wish to be able to inspire this population to guide it on the right path," the shaven-headed Martelly told Reuters in an interview, dedicating himself to changing Haiti's image as a failed country.

Even as Internet videos still circulate showing the entertainer clowning on stage in skimpy costumes, "Sweet Micky," now repackaged in a sober suit and tie, outlined his ambitious plans.

The 50-year-old political outsider won a landslide victory over former first lady Mirlande Manigat in a March 20 run-off, according to preliminary results out on Monday. He tapped into Haitians' yearnings for a better future for their impoverished, earthquake-battered nation.

Martelly said that from day one of his presidency, expected to begin in May, he would work to bury Haiti's "bad image" as a disaster-prone, aid-dependent nation, struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake last year.

"They have always sold our misery, our misfortunes, our cholera, the images of the earthquake, while Haiti in my eyes is a rich country, which has not been exploited yet," he said, speaking at his campaign offices late on Wednesday.

"We plan from the first days of our term to sell a new image of Haiti," Martelly added. After a disputes process, his election win should be declared definitive later this month.

During an energetic campaign, Martelly, a popular star of Haiti's catchy Konpa carnival music whose on-stage antics have included baring his backside, skillfully used his "bad boy" outsider image to project a forceful message of change. He promised to break with decades of corruption and misrule.

He committed himself to restore the confidence of Haitians in their own country and international confidence in Haiti.

This is no mean task in one of the world's poorest countries, which has the humiliating sobriquet of "Republic of NGOs" for its chronic dependency on aid from non-governmental agencies. Most Haitians, mired in poverty, have learned to scorn their politicians as posturing puppets bent on self-enrichment.

"In the past the State has exploited the population. Civil servants have grown rich. They have lost the sense of what is public function. Public function means service to the population," Martelly said.

"I'm an entrepreneur"

He saw an urgent priority to provide housing for 680,000 homeless survivors of the earthquake still living in tent camps, a quarter of whom face eviction by landowners, according to the International Organisation for Migration. "We understand the need to act without any further delay," he said.

Martelly added he and his team were already meeting members of the private sector and major landowners to discuss a partnership with the state to create social housing projects.

Guaranteeing free education was another priority.

Land ownership issues and a lack of solid legal protection have also been identified as major hindrances to the injection of private and foreign investment experts say Haiti urgently needs to escape its poverty trap.

Here too, Martelly, who became a rich man from a humble start as a casino singer and entertainer, says he will intervene actively to favor investments that create jobs.

"The simplest solution is that if there is a major investment project that will create a lot of jobs, and if it happens there is a conflict on that land, the State will declare the land of public domain. The government will facilitate the establishment of the enterprise," he said.

He also promised government support for impoverished farmers struggling to make a living in Haiti's denuded, eroded hilly landscape, saying a boost for agriculture would stem the exodus to cities that has caused overcrowding and squalor.

He would seek to revive farm exports, stifled in the past by cheap subsidised imports.

Martelly outlined tourism development plans that foresee investments on Haiti's beach-lined offshore islands, such as Ile-a-Vache, La Gonave and la Tortue.

He pledged "harmonious, efficient and fruitful" cooperation with Haiti's parliament, where opposition parties will dominate, and said he would seek good relations with the international community and the UN mission in Haiti.

When UN troops withdraw in a few years time, Haiti will need to replace them with a military force of its own, he said, a potentially sensitive issue in a country whose army, a past source of coups and abuses, was abolished in the mid-1990s.

Above all, he said he would do things differently. "Since Martelly is not a politician, he won't think like a politician. I'm an entrepreneur," he said. — Reuters

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Brazilian gunman kills 12, self at Rio school

Posted: 07 Apr 2011 05:50 PM PDT

An image taken from a security camera video shows Wellington Menezes de Oliveira, 24, walking inside the Tasso da Silveira school with a gun in his hand, in Rio de Janeiro on April 7, 2011. — Reuters pic

RIO DE JANEIRO, April 8 — A Brazilian gunman killed 12 children at a Rio de Janeiro school and then himself, police said yesterday, shocking the South American nation that has never seen such an incident before.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff wept when commenting on the incident during a speech to business leaders and requested a moment of silence for the victims.

"This type of crime is not characteristic of (our) country and therefore we are all ... united in repudiating this act of violence," Rousseff said.

The attack by the 24-year-old Welington de Oliveira was the first serial killing of its kind in Brazil. Attacks similar to the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, were unheard of in the South American nation.

"We have to show solidarity and support for the families of the children (killed by) that psychopath, that animal," said Rio de Janeiro Governor Sergio Cabral in a press conference at the school in the Rio neighborhood of Realengo.

Police said Oliveira entered the school carrying two guns and a suicide note. Oliveira told officials he was there to deliver a speech and then opened fire on students.

He was a former student at the school. Police said they believed he was mentally unstable, citing the content of the suicide note, which asked that "(someone) stand in front of my tomb and ask God to forgive me for what I did."

Oliveira did not have a police record.

'Like a horror movie'

Marcos Silva, 11, who was in the school but was not harmed, said the experience was "like a horror movie."

"Everyone lay down on the ground in silence, the teacher asked us not to make noise so the killer wouldn't notice us," Silva said "I thought to myself, 'If he comes in, we're all going to die.'"

Two of the 13 wounded children fleeing to the street called a police patrol, which rushed to the school in response.

A police officer told reporters he shot Oliveira in the leg after the gunman left a classroom and was attempting to reach the third floor of the building. Oliveira fell onto the stairs and shot himself in the head.

Violence in Rio has traditionally been associated with drug gangs that control vast areas of the city's slum communities. Rio's government has in recent months made considerable advances against narco-trafficking but crime remains a problem in the beachside tourist haven.

Crime experts say contraband firearms from police and the army often end up in the hands of criminals.

Authorities have stepped up slum pacification efforts that have created a permanent police presence in poor neighborhoods in hopes of tightening security in advance of the 2014 World Cup soccer championship and the 2016 Olympic Games. — Reuters

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