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By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti's Senate voted Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis out of office on Friday after lawmakers criticized her performance in promoting economic recovery in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
The resolution dismissing Pierre-Louis was approved by a simple majority in the 29-member Senate as opponents of the measure boycotted the vote.
"Eighteen Senators voted against the prime minister, which means the president has to replace her. We will write to the president to inform him of our decision," said Senate leader Kely Bastien.
Senators from President Rene Preval's party had led the criticism against the prime minister and he was expected to move quickly to appoint a replacement for Pierre-Louis, who had served just over a year in office.
The prime minister had rejected accusations that she failed to use effectively millions of dollars made available through an oil discount agreement with Venezuela to repair buildings and roads damaged in storms last year.
But Senator Joseph Lambert, a member of Preval's Lespwa movement, said she had done nothing to improve living standards since she was appointed head of government.
"Prime Minister Pierre-Louis proved she did not have the capacity nor the leadership to meet the population's expectations and satisfy its basic needs. That's why we were obliged to fire her," said Lambert.
Pierre-Louis' removal was likely to disappoint Bill Clinton, the former U.S. president and U.N. special envoy for Haiti who had been counting on political stability to attract foreign investment to help develop the poor Caribbean state.
Development experts say some 70 percent of Haiti's population of 9 million live on less than $2 dollars (1.2 pounds) a day, making it the poorest state in the Americas.
Four hurricanes and tropical storms pounded the country last year, killing some 800 people, devastating crops, washing away bridges and flooding seaside towns.
Clinton had surprised some analysts early in October by telling an investor conference in Port-au-Prince that Haiti's political risk was lower than it had ever been in his lifetime.
Some 9,000 United Nations troops and police keep the peace in Haiti, which has a history of violence and instability.
Five years ago, a president was overthrown by armed rebels and 18 months ago food riots toppled another prime minister.
Haiti's recent history has included a popular uprising that ousted the 30-year Duvalier family dictatorship in 1986, a military coup that sent President Jean-Bertrand Aristide packing in 1991 and years of gang violence and political tumult.
Clinton and institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank have been hoping to lure new business to reactivate the Haitian economy, especially in areas like agriculture and textiles.
Haiti won $1.2 billion in debt relief from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other creditors in July, freeing up an estimated $50 million a year to spend on other projects.
In April, donors pledged $324 million over two years to help rebuild Haiti. The Inter-American Development Bank said in June it would provide $120 million in grants next year to improve infrastructure, basic services and disaster prevention.
Senate opponents of the resolution to fire Pierre-Louis called it unconstitutional and said lawmakers had no power to remove the head of government in a special session without explicit instructions from Preval.
"It is really unjust to say Prime Minister Pierre-Louis is responsible for the problems of poverty and social inequality we have been facing for more than 200 years," Senator Rudy Heriveaux said.
"This vote to fire her is illegal, unconstitutional and really unfair."
There was no immediate reaction from Preval or Pierre-Louis.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)