PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) — Haiti's prime minister was ousted Saturday in a no confidence vote after more than a week of violent demonstrations over rocketing food and fuel prices.
Just as President Rene Preval unveiled a plan to cut the price of rice by 15 percent, 16 senators in the upper house of parliament voted unanimously to censure Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis over the crisis, costing him his job leading the government.
With the 10 senators in Alexis's own party absent, the legislators reproached the prime minister for failing to respond to the needs of Haiti's 8.5 million people, 80 percent of whom live on less than two dollars a day.
The move came amid reports that UN peacekeepers fired tear gas at protesters in central Port-au-Prince and that a UN policeman dressed in civilian clothes was shot dead by unknown assailants near the capital's cathedral.
"He was a riot policeman from Nigeria," said Sophie Boutaud de la Combe, spokeswoman for the Minustah force.
Earlier Preval said that he would not block any attempt to remove Alexis. He agreed to work with senate and lower house chiefs to find a replacement.
"If parliament fires the prime minister, I will do what the constitution demands -- I will consult the two parliamentary leaders to name a new prime minister, because no party has a parliamentary majority," Preval said.
Flanked by food importers, Preval announced his plan to bring down rice prices following more than a week of protests and riots that left at least five people dead and 200 injured, according to an unofficial count.
He said the plan would cut the cost of a 50 kilogram (110 pound) bag of rice, which had doubled to 70 dollars within a week, by eight dollars (15 percent).
"It is a move the government has agreed to thanks to the three million dollars in aid provided by the international community," Preval said, adding that the government would also work to encourage more food production.
He defended Alexis as having done what he could in the face of global increases in food prices, and said it was "unfair" to place all the blame on him.
Thousands of people took to the streets around Haiti last week after the latest jump in food and fuel prices, in sometimes violent demonstrations that forced United Nations troops deployed here to intervene.
Blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers were called in to protect the presidential palace, using tear gas and firing into the air to repel demonstrators, radio reports said, while there were also reports of looting.
Preval's government was formed in 2006 after elections that followed two years of turmoil sparked by the departure of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Preval named Alexis as his prime minister, and Alexis won a vote of confidence in the lower house of parliament as recently as a month ago.
However, pressure had grown on the government in the current crisis.
Senator Jean Judnel, who backed Saturday's censure motion, said lawmakers would now "work with the president to chose a new prime minister."
"We will size up that prime minister to see if he can respond to the needs of the population," he told AFP.
"He must be able to listen to the cries of the people," Judnel said.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that Caracas would send Haiti 364 tonnes of emergency food aid, including beef, chicken, milk, cooking oil, lentils and other foods.
Chavez, in Caracas, said the decision was aimed at helping "to ease a crisis that is enormous."
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