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US Urges Citizens to Leave Haiti Now - 2004-02-20


The United States is warning American citizens to leave Haiti as soon as possible.

In a travel advisory (issued Thursday), the State Department warns there is "a steady deterioration of the security situation" in Haiti. It urges travelers to avoid the Caribbean island, and advises all Americans in Haiti to leave "at their first safe opportunity."

Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated American support for a political plan to resolve the Haitian crisis.

Two weeks of unrest in the impoverished island nation have claimed at least 55 lives; protesters are demanding the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The Organization of American States also supports efforts to reach a political settlement. The U.S. - backed plan calls on the country's warring factions to disarm. It would install a neutral prime minister and a broad-based government advisory council to prepare for new parliamentary elections.

Representatives from the United States, Canada, France and the Caribbean Community -- CARICOM -- are expected in Haiti Saturday to present the plan in separate meetings with President Aristide and his opposition.

The plan does not call for Mr. Aristide to step down. Secretary Powell says the United States is not encouraging him to quit, but neither would it oppose such a move.

Mr. Aristide said in a speech Thursday that he would rather die defending his country than leave office.

Haiti has been mired in political turmoil since disputed legislative elections in 2000. Armed rebels have taken over a dozen cities and towns and cut transportation links.

Information for this report is provided by AP.

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