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France calls for aristide to resign { February 26 2004 }

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February 26, 2004

France calls for Aristide to resign

By PAMELA SAMPSON - Associated Press

PARIS (AP) -- Warning that Haiti is quickly heading toward chaos, France called for the resignation of embattled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and for the immediate establishment of a transitional government.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin on Wednesday unveiled a five-point initiative that also calls for an international civilian force to restore order and back up a new "national unity" government.

"A race is under way between those who support violence and those who are still hoping for a peaceful solution," de Villepin said in a statement.

De Villepin's statement was highly critical of Aristide, saying France no longer supports his leadership and wants elections to be organized quickly with international help.

"As far as President Aristide is concerned, he bears grave responsibility for the current situation. It's up to him to accept the consequences while respecting the rule of law," de Villepin said. "Everyone sees quite well that a new page must be opened in Haiti's history, while respecting the dignity and integrity of all the protagonists."

The French foreign minister called for a peace plan based on a proposal by the 15-nation Caribbean Community, known as CARICOM, to be accelerated and broadened to include "the immediate 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," de Villepin said. "It would come to the support of a government of national unity."

French diplomats at the United Nations said the idea is to assemble an international police force now so that it is ready to move in as soon as a transitional government is formed.

The foreign minister said he spoke several times Tuesday and Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, other foreign diplomats and Haitian political officials. He said he was to meet Friday with representatives of the government and the opposition in Paris.

Rebel forces now control about half of Haiti and have threatened to attack Port-au-Prince, the capital, where militants loyal to Aristide have set up dozens of flaming barricades to prevent a takeover.

On Wednesday, a coalition of political opponents formally rejected an international plan supported by CARICOM and the United States for Aristide to remain president with diminished powers and sharing the government with his political rivals.

Aristide had accepted the proposal Saturday but the opposition balked, asking the international community to help ensure his "timely and orderly" departure.

De Villepin also demanded that the political opposition "open a new phase of negotiations."

As part of the broadened CARICOM plan, the French government called for international assistance to help Haiti organize a presidential election, including establishing an election commission, lists of "legitimate" voters and international observer missions to oversee the ballot.

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