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Haiti's interim president sworn in
Updated: 2004-03-09 08:51

Haiti's interim president took the reins of his country's shattered government Monday as supporters of Jean-Bertrand Aristide shouted demands for the ousted leader's return.

Military helicopters circled overhead and U.S. Marines in armored cars patrolled the streets Monday outside the National Palace as Boniface Alexandre was formally installed.

"Aristide or death!" Aristide supporters yelled at the gates of the palace during the ceremony, their shouts carrying into the room where Alexandre urged his countrymen to remain calm.

"We are all brothers and sisters," said Alexandre, who has served as president for a week and was officially sworn in February 29. "We are all in the same boat, and if it sinks, it sinks with all of us."

Earlier, Aristide declared from his African exile that he was still president of Haiti and urged "peaceful resistance" in his homeland.

On Monday, hundreds of people ransacked Port-au-Prince's industrial park, carrying away wood paneling, toilets, even a plastic Mickey Mouse. One looter wore the top part of horse costume on his head as he made off with a mirror. The looting took place less than half a mile from the international airport where U.S. Marines have set up base.

Alexandre urged people "to keep calm. No one has the right to do justice by themselves."

Ignoring Aristide's claims to Haiti's leadership, a recently appointed seven-member Council of Sages was interviewing three top candidates for prime minister Monday, to replace Aristide appointee Yvon Neptune.

The new premier, whom the council hoped to name on Tuesday, would form a transitional government from Aristide's Lavalas party and a disparate opposition coalition.

The candidates are:

Businessman Smarck Michel, Aristide's prime minister in 1994-1995 who resigned over differences in economic policy.

Retired Lt. Gen. Herard Abraham, who is probably the only Haitian army officer to voluntarily surrender power to a civilian, in 1990. He allowed the transition that led to Haiti's first free elections in December 1990, which Aristide won in a landslide.

Gerard Latortue, a former U.N. official and an international business consultant who was foreign minister in 1988 to former President Leslie Manigat. Manigat was toppled in one of the 32 coups fomented by Haiti's army, which ousted Aristide in 1991 and was disbanded after 20,000 troops came to Haiti in 1994 to halt an exodus of boat people to Florida and restore democracy.

Aristide was a wildly popular slum priest, elected on promises to champion the poor who make up the vast majority of Haiti's 8 million people. But he has lost support, with Haitians saying he failed to improve their lives, condoned corruption and used police and armed supporters to attack his political opponents.

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