Haiti’s president plans concert to raise funds for nation’s schools

Haitian President Michel Martelly announced Thursday he’ll return to the stage briefly in December for a concert he hopes will raise $10 million for his nation’s schools.

The longtime performer and recording artist said he hopes to persuade officials from the U.N. and the neighboring Dominican Republic to buy plenty of tickets to the Dec. 23 event in Port-au-Prince that will briefly meld his past and present careers.

“I remain close to my people,” Martelly told The Associated Press on the eve of his first address to the United Nations. “I keep singing with them.”

Sitting in the presidential suite of a midtown hotel, Martelly insisted that when he performs, “it won’t be as the president of Haiti. It will be Sweet Micky” — his stage name. Martelly is known for pioneering a type of Haitian dance music known as compas.

But the 50-year-old, who happily played a few chords on the suite’s baby grand piano for the news cameras Thursday morning, acknowledged that it hasn’t been all fun since he was elected in the spring.

Martelly said assuming the presidency has caused him to change his mind about some things, including his past opinion that U.N. peacekeeping troops should leave the Caribbean nation of 10 million.

“I think that the absence of our own defense, our own army, justifies its existence,” Martelly said of the U.N. force first established in Haiti in 1994 to help maintain order after political violence engulfed the country.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recommended that the force remain in Haiti, with some 2,500 fewer troops than the 12,000 currently deployed there — returning it to its level before the January 2010 earthquake that devastated the country.

Protests calling for the departure of the force continue to erupt in Haiti, where many people remain angry over a cholera outbreak likely introduced by a battalion from Nepal. The epidemic has killed more than 6,200 people since its outbreak nearly a year ago.

Protesters are also angry over the alleged sexual assault of an 18-year-old Haitian man by peacekeepers from Uruguay in the southwestern town of Port-Salut in July. The U.N., Haiti and Uruguay are investigating the allegations.

The Haitian president blamed “some people” and politicians he would not name for stirring up the protesters.

Martelly said much of his energy is now consumed by the ongoing reconstruction of the nation after the devastating quake, and plans to move tens of thousands of people out of camps into permanent homes.

He said no decision has been made what to do with the Champs des Mars, the park in the city’s heart that became a huge encampment of shanties and tents.

He’s also waiting for final Senate approval next week on his choice for prime minister: a former aide to ex-U.S. President Bill Clinton who has already been overwhelmingly approved by Parliament’s lower chamber.

Martelly says Garry Conille’s experience as a United Nations development worker and as Clinton’s former chief of staff would serve him well in his new role.

Martelly said Clinton, the special U.N. envoy for Haiti, had warned him some people could question his choice because of his ties to the U.S. and the U.N.

But Martelly said he believed Conille was the best person for the job. Lawmakers rejected his first two candidates for prime minister.

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