PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, FEB. 7 -- Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a 37-year-old leftist priest who survived assassination attempts and the wrath of Haiti's established powers, became Haiti's 40th president today and immediately moved to overhaul the nation's army.
Surrounded by army generals and facing rows of troops at attention on the lawn of the national palace, Aristide called on the army's commander-in-chief, Lt. Gen. Herard Abraham, to retire six of the eight generals of the army high command as well as the colonel who commands the palace guard.
For many Haitians, those officers, all of them military men for more than 30 years, symbolize repression and loyalty to the old Duvalier family dictatorship.
At the same time, however, Aristide proclaimed that his inauguration marked a marriage between the Haitian people and the army. And he warned the Ton-tons Macoutes, the Duvalierist militia that has tried to block his ascent, occasionally with the complicity of the army, not to stand in his way.
"Do not come and split this wedding between the army and the people," Aristide said. "Starting today, the armed forces are our brothers who have weapons to protect us from the Ton-tons Macoutes." He called for the promotion to the rank of general of one colonel, who was in charge of security during the elections.
As hundreds of thousands of gleeful countrymen danced and sang in the streets, Aristide delivered an electrifying speech, proclaiming that his love affair with the people had brought Haiti a "second independence" and vowing a fundamental change in the social order.
Aristide's inauguration came five years to the day after "President-for-Life" Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier fled into exile, ending the 29-year dictatorship begun by his father, Francois, in 1957. Since Duvalier's departure, Haiti has had five governments in as many years, three of them military and none of them the product of fair elections.
When the latest ruling general, Prosper Avril, fled the country in a U.S. military airplane in March 1990, a provisional president, Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, was named. She pledged to lead the country to free elections, and with international pressure and financing, particularly from the United States, she succeeded.
On Dec. 16, Aristide, a spellbinding speaker who is regarded as a cross between a mystic and a savior by many impoverished Haitians, won a landslide victory at the polls. He collected 67 percent of the vote while his nearest rival had less than 15 percent. Aristide has said he would give up his priestly functions if so directed by the Vatican. The Roman Catholic Church has insisted in the past that priests do so upon entering politics.
In the seven weeks since his victory, at least 125 people have been killed in street violence, most of them last month when the leader of the Ton-tons Macoutes launched a failed coup attempt.
The latest victims were four boys who were killed last weekend in a fire, apparently set by arsonists, at the orphanage that Aristide runs in the capital.
"Starting today, not one drop of blood can run any longer in Haiti," Aristide said. His popularity stems largely from his gripping oratory, which blends folklore, proverbs and the responsive litanies he used in the pulpit, and from his ability to reach the poor. Both were on display in his nationally televised address.
"I'm in love with you and I'm crazy about you and I know that you are crazy about me as you are crazy about Haiti," he said, as the crowd roared its confirmation.
He went on in a singsong voice, at times leaving to the multitudes in front of the palace, familiar with his speeches and sermons from the radio, the finishing of his sentences.
"Love and democracy is, come and get me, and I'll come pick you up.
"Love and justice is like the ring and the finger.
"Love and respect is fish crushed in stew.
"Love and dignity are two sides of the same coin."
Aristide celebrated his political movement, known as the Flood, which he has said will sweep away the corruption and greed that have characterized Haitian governments for decades. And he called on the Flood to continue to mobilize the masses.
Using a Haitian proverb, Aristide led the crowd in a chant: "The more hands, the lighter the burden." He said that schools, which have been closed for two months because of fears of violence, will open next week. And he proposed a civic-works job program for youths.
Having preached for years that the poor should be lifted from their misery, he struck the same theme today. "Are there still people sitting under the table? Are there still people sitting on top of the table? Would you like all to sit around the table? We all will get to sit around the table."
In his speech and in symbols, Aristide appealed to the poor. He renounced the president's $10,000 monthly salary, calling it a "scandal in a country where people cannot eat." He said he would accept five cents, two dollars, or any amount the National Assembly deemed appropriate.
While dignitaries crisscrossed town in Mercedes-Benz limousines, Aristide used a small Japanese sedan.
The crowd responded in gesture and song, crying, "The prayer went up to the skies and the grace came down to us."
Aristide also reached out to delegations from Latin America and the Caribbean. He broke from the Creole of his speech to greet his guests in French, Spanish, English, German, Italian, Hebrew and Arabic.
While pointing to aid from Mexico, Venezuela, Germany, Canada and Taiwan, Aristide made no mention of Haiti's two largest donors of foreign aid, the United States and France.
Special correspondent J.P. Slavin contributed to this report.