Sunday, February 29, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Pro-government mobs that were looting and shooting up the Haitian capital withdrew from the streets yesterday, obeying a plea from President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and a rebel leader said he would honor a U.S. appeal not to attack.

Though violence subsided, doctors said the morgue at Port-au-Prince’s only hospital was full and that more than 25 bodies were brought in since Friday — raising the death toll to more than 100 in Haiti’s four-week rebellion.

The United States urged both sides in the conflict to end the violence that broke out Feb. 5.

Rebel leader Guy Philippe, speaking from a key northern city in his control, said his fighters would not attack the capital “for a day or two.”

France, Brazil, Canada and the United States sent military planes with soldiers yesterday to evacuate citizens.

At the airport, about 200 people tried to get on a nine-seat plane flying to the Dominican Republic.

Most airlines have canceled flights to Haiti, where there are an estimated 20,000 foreigners.

Mr. Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, held fast in his refusal to leave office until his term expires in February 2006, defying calls from the United States and France to step down.

“Will I resign? No, I will not resign,” he said. “I will fulfill my turn, and I will not allow criminals and terrorists to take over.”

Mr. Aristide went on television Friday night to call for calm and an end of the violence, saying “looting is bad.”

Earlier yesterday, there was looting at the capital’s seaport, with people hacking into about 500 containers of U.S. aid and carrying away sacks of lentils.

Food prices have multiplied in the capital since the popular uprising began in the northern city of Gonaives, and rebels swiftly cut off supplies from Artibonite, the key agricultural district.

The rebels have gathered hundreds of volunteers as they have chased Haiti’s outgunned police force from a score of towns and overrun more than half of the country. Many of those killed in recent weeks were police officers.

As the president spoke, a truckload of Aristide militants plowed through the hospital parking lot to the entrance, where they revved the engine threateningly and rocked the vehicle back and forth before driving away.

Mr. Philippe said that while his forces will continue to converge near the capital, he will hold off attacking in response to the U.S. appeals, which he said he read on the Internet.

The American appeal for an end to violence was issued Friday night by U.S. Ambassador James Foley in a statement to reporters. There was no direct contact between U.S. officials and rebels, both sides made clear.

Some 2,200 U.S. Marines were put on alert as Pentagon officials weighed the possibility of sending troops to waters off Haiti to guard against any flood of refugees and to protect the estimated 20,000 Americans in the Caribbean country.

In its statement, the U.S. Embassy, which has rebuffed Mr. Aristide’s pleas to send a small peacekeeping force, urged Haiti’s leader to tell his followers to stop “spreading terror and attacking civilians and the general population.”

Mr. Aristide urged his followers to let people go about their duties in the day, but added, “We can put up barricades at night to ensure [rebels] don’t attack us.”

He also urged the government’s 46,000 employees to go back to work tomorrow and called for schools to reopen.

Radio Vision 2000 suspended broadcasts after assailants shot at the building early yesterday morning, apparently because of reports critical of Mr. Aristide.

His loyalists robbed drivers for the U.S. and French embassies early yesterday, and beat up the French Embassy driver, witnesses said.

Such attacks have increased since U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin suggested Mr. Aristide cede power for the good of his Caribbean nation of 8 million people.

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