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Pressure intensifies on Aristide

Thursday, February 26, 2004

President Bush is encouraging an international 'security presence.'
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Pressure mounted today for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to resign, with France blaming him for the chaos in Haiti and urging that he be replaced by a transitional government.
Pro-Aristide supporters manned flaming roadblocks throughout Port-au-Prince and braced for a rebel attack while motorists lined up for dwindling supplies of gasoline amid shuttered businesses and otherwise empty streets.
"There is a lot of tension today," said Jean Pierre Sully, 30, hours before a planned anti-government demonstration by students.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled a meeting for this afternoon on the 3-week-old uprising.
Foreigners flee
Foreigners fled the island nation amid isolated looting, and President Bush said the United States is encouraging the international community to provide a strong "security presence."
Concerned about the increasing chaos in its former colony, France called for Aristide's resignation, saying "he bears grave responsibility for the current situation."
"It's up to him to accept the consequences while respecting the rule of law," Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said in a statement.
French diplomatic officials confirmed today that de Villepin was calling for Aristide to resign.
Abel Descollines, a member of the opposition Democratic Platform coalition, praised France's statement and asked the United States and Canada to do the same.
"We hope American and Canadian authorities will rally behind the French position to help Haiti avoid a civil war," he told French RTL radio.
Departure for Aristide
French Defense Ministry spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau said it was too early to discuss whether there would be a role for the military in ensuring a peaceful departure by Aristide, should he leave the island.
The leader of the rebels who have overrun half the country urged Haitians to stay indoors if fighting nears the capital.
"We're going straight for the National Palace where we're going to arrest Aristide," Guy Philippe said in a call to Radio Vision 2000 from the rebel-held city of Cap-Haitien in the north. "It will be over very soon."
The message was contrary to one he gave hours earlier, when he said he wanted to see if Aristide resigns and to "give a chance to peace."
Aristide, a 50-year-old former slum priest, once commanded widespread support as Haiti's first democratically elected leader and savior to the poor, but he has steadily lost support as poverty deepened after his party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000 and international donors suspended aid.
Opposition leaders, who say they are not linked to the rebels, have rejected a U.S.-backed proposal for Aristide to remain president and share power with his political rivals.
De Villepin called for the establishment of a civilian peacekeeping force. "This international force would be responsible for guaranteeing the return to public order and supporting the international community's action on the ground," Villepin said.
French and U.S. diplomats say Aristide used police and supporters to crush dissent, contributing to the violence, and failed to fight corruption in the police and judiciary.
A convicted drug lord, meanwhile, provided damning testimony against Aristide, saying the president was profiting from cocaine trafficking.
Beaudoin "Jacques" Ketant testified Wednesday in Miami after being sentenced to 27 years for money laundering and allegedly shepherding 41 tons of drugs for Colombian drug cartels through Haiti to the United States from 1987 to 1996.
"He turned the country into a narco-country," Ketant said. Ira Kurzban, a Miami attorney for the Haitian government, dismissed the allegations from "a lying, convicted drug dealer"
Aristide has, for his part, accused the rebels of leading the popular uprising, which has killed about 80 people and seen buildings torched, through drug-trafficking proceeds.
As order in the impoverished country of 8 million unraveled, Aristide's two daughters flew to the United States.
Blocked roads
Roads in the capital were blocked by Aristide militants who set up dozens of barricades. They were initially erected to prevent rebels from entering the capital, but on Wednesday the militants began robbing people who stopped at the barricades.
Police at first did nothing but later arrested about a dozen suspected robbers.
American Airlines delayed three of its five daily flights to the United States because crew and passengers had trouble passing the roadblocks. Air Jamaica canceled its flights to Haiti indefinitely.