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Aristide Says He Will Stay Put as Capital Descends Into Lawlessness - 2004-02-28


Embattled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide says he has a responsibility to stay in office despite mounting pressure to step down and gains by rebels threatening to overrun the capital.

Mr. Aristide said in an interview with CNN Friday that as the elected president of Haiti, his duty is to remain put to protect the Haitian people the best way he can. The president also made a new appeal for international help to counter the insurrection against him.

The appeal came hours after a group of rebels seized control of the town of Mirebalais outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, and freed prisoners from the local jail. Additionally, a previously unknown rebel group overran the western city of Les Cayes - a move that puts anti-government militants in charge of the country's four largest cities.

Meanwhile, the capital erupted into lawlessness as gangs carried out revenge killings and people looted warehouses. Armed gangs of Aristide supporters roamed the streets in cars and trucks, telling of how they planned to burn down the houses of those who oppose Mr. Aristide.

In Washington, President Bush said he is still seeking a political solution to the crisis in Haiti, but stopped short of directly calling on President Aristide to step down. Instead, Mr. Bush pointed to remarks made Thursday by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said Mr. Aristide should carefully examine how best to serve his people.

President Bush said he is making plans for a multi-national force to go into Haiti, pending a political settlement to the country's three-week-old uprising. The Pentagon says one option under consideration is deployment of a three-ship amphibious group that could carry some two thousand U.S. Marines. But Defense Department officials say no decisions have been made.

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