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Gangs rampage in haiti capital

Original Source Link: (May no longer be active)|top|02-28-2004::10:31|reuters.html|top|02-28-2004::10:31|reuters.html

Aristide Urges Calm After Gangs Rampage in Haiti
28, 10:26 AM (ET)

By Alistair Scrutton and Jim Loney
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - Embattled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide called on Saturday for an end to looting and violence after many of his armed loyalists terrorized residents of Haiti's capital as rebels advanced on the city.

"We condemn that (looting). When it's not good we have to say it's not good," the president said in a national TV address. He called on Haitians to stop carjacking and thefts but continue to barricade the city against any attack by rebels already in control of half the country.

Hours after his address, many streets were emptier of people and cars. Some barricades, flaming the night before, had been taken down. Others were unmanned. Most shops and gas stations were closed amid increasing food shortages.

The president's address came shortly after the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince issued a statement saying pro-government groups had begun to "burn, pillage and kill" and calling on Aristide to put a halt to it.

At least 65 people have been killed during the three-week-old revolt against Aristide, accused of corruption and political thuggery by his foes.

On Friday, bands of armed men, many wearing masks, roamed in trucks and cars through the chaotic capital. At least three people were killed -- one apparently hacked with machetes and two found near the airport, one with hands bound.

A ragtag band of former soldiers and gang members are trying to unseat Aristide. The president is a one-time populist hero of Haitian democracy who is backed by an ill-trained, 4,000-member police force and armed supporters from the slums.

In South Africa, Beeld newspaper said on Saturday South African police have arranged to send 150 R1 rifles, 5,000 rounds of ammunition, 200 smoke bombs and 200 bullet-proof jackets to Haiti for government forces next week. There was no immediate comment from South African officials.

With few police now on the streets, Aristide called on his supporters to set up barricades at night to stop any rebel attack.


"If you think barricades are necessary, yes, you can do that ... but when the sun appears and the people have to go to work people should be able to work." Aristide said.

He urged the country's 46,000 civil servants to go to work on Monday, adding, "I will also be in my office on Monday."

In Washington, U.S. defense officials said they were considering sending a three-ship group carrying U.S. Marines to Haiti to help deal with the crisis in the Caribbean country of 8 million, the poorest country in the Americas.

Aristide, who has predicted a blood bath if the rebels enter the capital, told CNN by telephone from Port-au-Prince Washington should take a stand for democracy in Haiti.

"I think President Bush sent troops to Afghanistan ... Here we want to defend democracy. We have a common ground," Aristide said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was "increasingly concerned" at the deteriorating situation in Haiti and called for a peaceful solution, his spokesman said in a statement.

He warned leaders would be held "accountable for any breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law."

Rebel leader Guy Philippe, a former police chief accused of plotting coups who returned from exile in the Dominican Republic to join the revolt, said his men planned to cut off Port-au-Prince from the ocean.

"All the boats should come and stay in Cap Haitien so starting next week Port-au-Prince will not receive any guns or anything," Philippe said on Friday. Philippe has said his men have surrounded Port-au-Prince and are awaiting orders to attack.

A negotiated end to the crisis, which erupted on Feb. 5 in the western city of Gonaives, seemed far away.

Aristide's political foes -- who have distanced themselves from the armed revolt but share its aim of seeing Aristide gone -- have rejected power-sharing and reiterated demands the president leave the palace. (Additional reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva and Amy Bracken in Port-au-Prince)

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