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Defiant Haiti Picks a New President : Caribbean: Flouting U.N. resolution, military rulers and renegade legislators claim elected leader Aristide abandoned office. The White House condemns the move.


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — In direct defiance of the United States and United Nations, Haitian military rulers and renegade legislators on Wednesday named a new government to replace exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and all but dared the international community to stop them.

With army commander Raoul Cedras and other military officers looking on in the Parliament's main hall, Sen. Bernard Sansaricq, one of two rival presidents of the Haitian Senate, declared that Aristide, overthrown by a violent coup in September, 1991, had abandoned his office and betrayed the country. They picked Supreme Court President Emile Jonassaint as president.

In Washington, the White House denounced the Haitian action, which Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers called, "cynical, unconstitutional and illegal."

"We don't recognize that there is a vacancy" in the Haitian presidency, Myers said, noting that the Clinton Administration still considers Aristide to be Haiti's legitimate president.

But Jonassaint's elevation raised a key question as to what steps the international community might take next, including military intervention. And on this topic, officials in Washington on Wednesday took special pains to criticize a Times report Tuesday.

The report, citing diplomatic sources, said the United States plans to send at least 600 heavily armed and protected troops to purge Haiti's military, even if a broader, tougher program of sanctions forces the Caribbean nation's military rulers from power.

"The story is wrong," Myers said. But she added that the President is not willing to rule out the use of force.

And Madeleine Albright, American ambassador to the United Nations, said that no matter what happens in Haiti, officials think that some kind of a U.N. force, with an American component, will eventually be needed in the country. She said on NBC's "Today" show that the Administration is doing "contingency" planning as it awaits the results, if any, of tough new sanctions against the military regime.

Meantime, in Port-au-Prince, in a speech marked by bellowing attacks on the United States and the United Nations, Sansaricq said the new government would take office immediately and serve until new elections are held later this year. As he spoke, four cannons were rolled onto the grounds of the Presidential Palace to fire a 21-gun salute.

By naming the little-known, frail, 81-year-old Jonassaint as president, Sansaricq, who acted with Cedras' support, openly defied the U.N. Security Council.

The council approved a resolution last Friday aimed at forcing Aristide's return with tough economic sanctions. That resolution "condemns any attempt illegally to remove legal authority from the legitimately elected president (and) declares that it would consider illegitimate any purposed government resulting from such an attempt."

Sansaricq called the resolution an "invasion of national sovereignty" and said Haiti will "resist" any effort by the United States to restore Aristide, including the use of military advisers and other troops as contemplated by President Clinton as part of an earlier agreement to reorganize and retrain Haiti's military and police.

One diplomat here said the move Wednesday was "the military's way of saying 'Take your best shot.' " The move was condemned by American officials and representatives of other nations.

But beyond its symbolism, the naming of a new government has practical, potentially threatening aspects, most alarming among them the possibility that Jonassaint will order the U.N. Civil Mission, which monitors human rights and represents the United Nations, to leave the country.

Haitian Defiance

The naming of the new president on Wednesday escalated the conflict between the Haitian regime and the international community.

In Haiti, Sansaricq indicated he was dismissing the likelihood of an American military reaction by "blessing" public opposition to such a move from individuals such as former President George Bush, Senate Republican leader Bob Dole and former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.

Sansaricq--who claims the Haitian Senate presidency based on a 1993 election that even the military in Haiti has acknowledged was fraudulent--denounced the U.N. mission here. It is made up of about 100 observers and administrative personnel.

He called the U.N. mission illegal, saying the agreement permitting its presence is no longer valid. "The international community," he said, "wants to wipe us off the face of the earth. . . . May God spare us this vile and murderous pursuit of pseudo-democracy."

In elevating Jonassaint, Sansaricq operated unilaterally and in violation of the constitution he claimed as justification for his decree; neither chamber of the Parliament approved the action, as required. There was never even a legal vote, and the swearing-in was boycotted by the majority of the legislators.

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