Haiti's president departs to make way for interim government

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- President Michel Martelly made his farewell speech to Haiti as he departed office Sunday with no successor yet chosen because a runoff election was scrapped last month amid violent protests and deep suspicions about vote rigging.

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In a nearly 20-minute speech before a joint session of Parliament, Martelly said his "biggest regret is that the presidential election was postponed." Addressing the Haitian people, he said he worked "night and day" to improve the country and was "ready to answer before the court of history."

Martelly, who took office in May 2011, is departing on what was scheduled as the first day of Port-au-Prince's annual three-day Carnival celebration. However, authorities called off Sunday's festivities because of a tense atmosphere amid the political uncertainty.

Lawmakers are beginning a process to patch together a short-term interim government to smooth political divisions and fill the void left by Martelly's departure. Prime Minister Evans Paul remains in office for now, awaiting a provisional president to be chosen by Parliament in the coming days.

Haiti last created a transitional government in 2004. That interim administration, which lasted for two years, took power in the chaotic days after President Jean Bertrand-Aristide was ousted by a rebellion and a U.N. peacekeeping force came to stabilize the country.

This time, with quarrelling political factions throwing Haiti into an electoral and constitutional crisis, a last-minute deal was forged by Martelly and lawmakers less than 24 hours before his scheduled departure from office. A special mission from the 35-nation Organization of American States was in Haiti to observe last week's negotiations and help foster dialogue.

The deal announced Saturday says an interim government will rule until an elected leader can take office May 14. The twice postponed presidential and legislative runoff is rescheduled for April 24.

Martelly expressed satisfaction with the agreement, saying lawmakers "gave me a guarantee that the country is going to be stable and I can leave office in peace."

He handed over his presidential sash after his address and embraced many of the 23 senators and 86 deputies in the National Assembly. The senators wore black suits and hats while the deputies wore white. Seven legislators were absent.

Senate President Jocelerme Privert said Parliament will accept nominations for a provisional president over the next five days. Legislators are expected to vote for a leader of the caretaker government a couple of days after the nomination period ends.

Some opposition lawmakers disagree with the accord reached by Martelly and legislators, but Privert said they will have to accept the majority's decision. "This is the democratic way," he said.

In a Sunday statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Haitian authorities to implement the accord "in order to ensure the democratic transfer of power to elected officials."

About 100 government supporters gathered outside Parliament wearing pink T-shirts emblazoned with the words: "I am Martelly." Pink is the colour of his Tet Kale political faction.

Martelly greeted his supporters and waved from a car before his convoy sped off.

It was not immediately clear what his immediate plans were. The pop star-turned-president repeatedly said he wanted to depart office singing on a Carnival float under his pop singer stage name, "Sweet Micky." But another anti-government protest disrupted life in downtown Port-au-Prince on Sunday and some Carnival stands were destroyed.


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