Haiti premier says he plans elections as quickly as possible

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FILE PHOTO: Haitian designated Prime Minister Ariel Henry arrives at a ceremony in the National Pantheon Museum in honor of late Haitian President Jovenel Moise, in Port-au-Prince
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PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti's new Prime Minister Ariel Henry on Wednesday said the government plans to create conditions for the Caribbean nation to hold elections as swiftly as possible following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise earlier this month.

Already struggling with political paralysis, economic malaise and gang-fueled violence, Haiti was pushed deeper into turmoil by the killing of Moise, which the government blamed on a group of mostly Colombian mercenaries.

Western powers have encouraged Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, to elect a new leadership as early as possible to give democratic legitimacy to the government. Presidential and parliamentary elections had been due to take place in September.

"The mission of this government is to prepare the conditions to hold the elections as quickly as possible," Henry told reporters at his first news conference since taking office last week.

Henry said he would be working to restore confidence in the government, and that there would be dialogue with civil society and political leaders to reach consensus on how to move forward.

The discussions would strive to eliminate "all irritants" that could get in the way of holding elections, he said, without elaborating. Nor did he give a target date for the elections.

One potential stumbling block for elections is Moise’s prior plan to concurrently hold a referendum on changing the constitution to strengthen the presidency at the expense of parliament.

Henry did not mention the constitutional reform on Wednesday.

Henry, a 71-year-old neurosurgeon, was tapped by Moise to be the new prime minister just days before the president was assassinated.

(Reporting by Andre Paultre and Dave Graham in Port-au-Prince; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Grant McCool)

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