PORT-AU-PRINCE - The president of Haiti adopted a compromise settlement by the Catholic leadership to curb the violent trends in the volatile nation, on December 17.
The church proposal, first put forth in November, calls for a congressional session in January to name a nine-member council to advise the president and meant to represent different groups in society, ahead of setting up a "consensus electoral council."
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, made the offer based on an Episcopal Conference proposal late Thursday in an interview on state television, after weeks of opposition calls for him to stand down amid mounting street violence.
Aristide said it was time to head off a power vacuum that would emerge as lawmakers in the lower house and two-thirds of the senate's terms expire on January 12.
The church also has called on the opposition to reverse its refusal to take part in elections, and name representatives to the consensus council and presidential advisory board.
The nine sectors of society supposed to be represented are the High Court; the ruling Lavalas party; the opposition Democratic Convergence; remaining opposition parties; the Catholic Church; Protestant leaders; the Episcopalian Church; business leaders; and human rights groups.
Socialist opposition leader Micha Gaillard said the bishops' move was good but added that Aristide was in "a desperate bid to cling to power in the face of rising popular opposition activism across the country."
Monday, the United States accused the Haitian government of violently suppressing peaceful political demonstrations by paying "armed thugs" to crack down on crowds protesting Aristide's rule.
"The United States deplores the violent suppression of political demonstrations that have occurred in Haiti recently," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a statement.
"These demonstrations, led mainly by students, were legitimate and peaceful expressions of political views," he said.
"The government of Haiti acted in complicity with its hired armed gangs to suppress these demonstrations with violence, resulting in some injuries and deaths," Boucher said.
Aristide was re-elected president in 2001 for a five-year term. But violence has intensified as opponents have accused him of misrule and corruption and demanded he step down. Aristide should serve through 2006. He first came to power in 1991 but was ousted in a military coup. The United States intervened in the impoverished nation in 1994, returning him to office.
January 1 2004 marks Haitis 200th anniversary of independence from France.