Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Haitian rebels seize country's third largest city

AFP , PORT-AU-PRINCE

Haitian rebels seized the country's third largest city and the US and Canada signaled an end to support for President Jean Bertrand Aristide, but the embattled leader insisted he still would not stand down.

Black smoke billowed over Port-au-Prince as dusk fell on Thursday and pro-Aristide gangs returned to street barricades thrown up a day earlier to thwart any rebel advance, but nervous residents warily awaited an assault.

Rebels already control the northern half of the country after a three week insurrection that has left more than 70 dead.

Police said a new band of anti-Aristide rebels made a breakthrough in the south by taking Cayes and two smaller towns.

The main police station in Cayes, which has a population of about 125,000, was abandoned after an attack by a group calling themselves Base Resistance, police said. Police stations in nearby Cotes de Fer and Cavaillon were also attacked by the same group and had been abandoned, police said.

A new blow to Aristide came when the US and Canada gave the sign that it may be time for Aristide to leave, even though they had defended a mediation plan under which he would finish his two more years in office.

"I hope President Aristide will examine his position carefully and that judgments will be made as to what is best for the people of Haiti in this most difficult time," said US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington.

"He is the democratically elected president, but he has had difficulties in his presidency, and I think, as a number of people have commented, whether or not he is able to effectively continue as president is something that he will have to examine," Powell said.

Canada's Foreign Minister Bill Graham said the worsening situation in Haiti had forced the international community to consider "other scenarios," but it must not force him to leave.

Despite the pressure mounting around him, Aristide reaffirmed that he was determined to finish his term.

"I will leave the palace on Feb. 7, 2006, which is good for our democracy," he said.

Meanwhile the government has evacuated Taiwanese nationals from Haiti following reports that rebels had converged the previous day on Port-au-Prince and are awaiting orders to attack, Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) said yesterday.

Chien said that apart from 31 people -- three businessmen who are unwilling to leave, three agricultural mission members and various diplomatic personnel -- all Taiwanese citizens had left by road for neighboring Dominica.

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