- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2001

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Jean-Bertrand Aristide was sworn in yesterday to the sound of throbbing drums and cheers of dancing supporters, returning to power as Haiti's president after five years.

Mr. Aristide has promised to bring change to this Caribbean nation devastated by poverty and torn by political rivalry. But he comes to office facing international isolation because of disputed elections last year.

Holding his hand on a Bible, the former Roman Catholic priest took the oath of office before Parliament. He stood stone-faced through the swearing-in, then smiled as his predecessor, Rene Preval, slipped the red-and-blue presidential sash over his left shoulder.

Thousands danced through the streets to drums beating out the rhythm of traditional Haitian music.

"We planted the seed, and now it's time to reap what's sown. We want to make sure all the work we've done for Aristide pays off," said Michel Frizner, 28, a construction worker who had been waiting outside the palace since sunrise.

While Mr. Aristide's return is celebrated by many poor Haitians, it has been shunned by the international community. France and the European Union did not send delegations to the inauguration to show disapproval over fraud-tainted elections.

The United States sent only its ambassador.

Mr. Aristide, 47, is also challenged by Haiti's opposition parties, which claimed fraud in the May vote and have announced their own provisional president to head an alternative government while demanding new elections.

Mr. Aristide became Haiti's first democratically elected president in a landslide victory in 1990. The army ousted him in September 1991, and a U.S. military invasion restored him to power three years later.

Constitutionally barred from running for a consecutive term, Mr. Aristide spent only a few months in office before handing power to his protege, Mr. Preval.

In last year's parliamentary elections, Mr. Aristide's Lavalas Family party won more than 80 percent of local and parliamentary seats. The Organization of American States said 10 Senate seats won by pro-Aristide candidates should have gone to a second-round vote, and some countries threatened to withhold aid.

In a letter to then-President Clinton in December, Mr. Aristide offered to rectify the election results, include opposition figures in his government and appoint a new provisional electoral council. But the opposition rejected his offers, calling instead for new elections.

Talks to find common ground with the opposition began Saturday and went on into early Tuesday. But they failed.

On Tuesday, the 15-party opposition alliance Convergence named former presidential candidate Gerard Gourgue, 75, as the country's provisional president in an alternative government.

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