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Haitian president visits Washington for aid request

WASHINGTON - Hatian President René Préval arrives in Washington Monday for meetings with Congress and President Barack Obama as the White House prepares to ask lawmakers for more than $1 billion in aid for the earthquake-ravaged country.

"There is an urgency. The urgency is that we have entered into a rainy season," Préval said Friday, noting that the country needs at least $93 million immediately to fix drainage pipes to prevent flooding.

He also wants to purchase seeds and fertilizer to encourage those who fled the wrecked capital of Port-au-Prince to stay in the provinces and farm. The country is also seeking money to get students back in school.

Préval arrives in Washington after meeting with a series of visiting U.S. lawmakers, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and several Latin American leaders. He has been to the neighboring Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Mexico, but it will mark his first U.S. trip, post-disaster. He will meet Obama at the White House on Wednesday.

It comes just three weeks before the United States and other donor nations meet in New York to map out a way to assist in a reconstruction effort that has been estimated to cost $14 billion.

"What's most important is the philosophy of the reconstruction," Préval said he will tell U.S. officials. "It's not just reconstruct Port-au-Prince. It's rebuild Haiti."

Decades of neglect of the provinces and agriculture, Préval said, have forced people into the overcrowded capital.

"We need to put jobs in the provinces and for that you need roads, electricity, education, health," he said.

His visit comes as administration officials are pulling together an emergency spending package on Haiti reconstruction to present to Congress. As of Tuesday, the United States has spent more than $712 million for relief efforts, including $427 million by the U.S. Agency for International Development and $285 million by the Defense Department.

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