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French President Sarkozy arrives in Haiti

 

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France's national anthem blared across the tarmac today as Nicolas Sarkozy made the first visit ever by a French president to Haiti, once his nation's richest colony — offering aid to a country prostrate after a catastrophic earthquake. Sarkozy, who was greeted by Haitian President Rene Preval as a brass band played the Marseillaise, toured a French field hospital in the earthquakeravaged capital before giving a brief speech at the undamaged French Embassy. He said his visit had particular resonance given France and Haiti's historical ties and acknowledged that the "wounds of colonization" were perhaps still fresh in the minds of many Haitians, some of whom blame France for the country's troubles. "We are living a pivotal moment, a moment of truth for Haiti," Sarkozy said. Sarkozy said Haiti needs a reconstruction plan that bolsters the outlying provinces to help shift people away from Port-au-Prince, the Caribbean's most densely populated capital. He said one reason the death toll was so high was that the city was not built to sustain such a large population. He also said it is time for Haiti to take control of its destiny and free itself from dependence on foreign aid. "The Haitian people have been wounded ... The Haitian people are standing," he said, ending the speech by saying "Vive la France, Vive Haiti." Some Haitians are welcoming France's new interest in their nation as a counterbalance to the United States, which has sent troops there three times in the past 16 years.

 

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