Haiti remembers 2010 earthquake in subdued anniversary ceremonies

PORT-AU-PRINCE Sat Jan 12, 2013 11:20pm IST

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PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Former U.S. president Bill Clinton flew to Haiti on Saturday to join the country's president, Michel Martelly, at an official commemoration of the third anniversary of the earthquake that decimated the capital and killed more than 250,000 people.

The simple, wreath-laying memorial was held at a mass burial site on a barren hillside on the outskirts of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, where neither Clinton, the U.N.'s Special Envoy for Haiti, nor Martelly made speeches.

"Today we're here so that we don't forget, and to do better," Haiti's Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told reporters. "We were heavily hit, that's true. But we're standing strong to rebuild our country."

Earlier on Saturday, Haiti's government marked the occasion with a purposefully low-key ceremony on the grounds of the razed national palace in downtown Port-au-Prince. In a short address, Martelly paid homage to the memories of those who perished, and to the courage of those who survived.

"A little more lonely, a little more vulnerable," said Martelly. "I express to you my compassion."

He addressed international donors and aid organisations, thanking them and promising that the ongoing reconstruction effort would be closely evaluated to avoid waste and corruption. "I understand your concern," he said.

Martelly also announced the launch of a new building code to saying that another tragedy like that of 2010 would never happen again.

Clinton was to meet privately with Martelly and Lamothe later in the day.

This year's anniversary is a marked change from the hours-long commemoration the government organized in the last two years, including live musical performances, a series of prayers from Haiti's spiritual leaders, press conferences and a tree-planting ceremony.

In 2011, a major concert outside the palace filled the streets with dancing.

Unlike other years, this third anniversary of the quake was not declared a national holiday. All the same, many businesses chose to shut their doors for the day, and the normally bustling streets were noticeably quieter.

Three years after the earthquake struck reconstruction has been painfully slow, and barely half of the $5 billion pledged by donors has been delivered.

More than 350,000 displaced earthquake victims are still living in camps, many under the threat of eviction, with little relief in sight of most. Only about 6,000 permanent houses have been built since the earthquake.

But there are some visible signs of progress beginning to emerge. An estimated 80 per cent of the rubble left by collapsed buildings has been removed, and some long-term development projects in Haiti's north were inaugurated in recent months, including a $300 million industrial park in Caracol and an expansion of Cap Haitien's airport to accommodate international carriers.

More than 80 new schools have been built by the Jamaica-based cellphone company, Digicel, and a modern teaching hospital, built by the charity Partners In Health, was inaugurated in the central Haiti town of Mirebalais.

Clinton is due to visit a housing project for displaced earthquake victims and an agricultural and technical training center run by Mission of Hope, an evangelical group, on Saturday.

(Editing by David Adams and Jackie Frank)

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