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Anarchy grips Haitian capital

A masked gang intercepts a car of looters in downtown Port-au-Prince.
A masked gang intercepts a car of looters in downtown Port-au-Prince.

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As chaos, looting and violence rage in Haiti's capital, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide vows to remain in power
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNN) -- With rebels claiming to have surrounded the Haitian capital -- where President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was holed up and vowing to stay -- armed gangs have taken to the streets, leaving deaths, looting and fires in their wake.

CNN Correspondent Lucia Newman described the situation in Port-au-Prince as "anarchy."

"Armed gangs, thugs, are ransacking, patrolling the streets at will, and there are no police to be seen," she said.

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement saying that "pro-government popular organizations in Port-au-Prince have begun to burn, pillage and kill."

"The armed gangs that are spreading terror and attacking civilians and the general population are acting in the name of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

"We therefore urgently call upon President Aristide to issue the necessary instructions so that his supporters stop this blind violence against the civilian population and public and economic targets. Mr. Aristide must understand that his honor, legacy and reputation are now at stake," the statement added.

Newman said some of the people killed had been shot execution-style, their hands tied behind their back. One man had been castrated with a machete.

The director of a major hospital told CNN that one of its patients was a United Nations consultant, who had been shot trying to cross a barricade. The consultant underwent surgery.

Foreigners crowded the capital's airport, trying to find a ticket out, even though only one flight departed Port-au-Prince Friday.

The Dominican Republic Embassy in the capital began humanitarian evacuations Friday, with five Huey helicopters taking off from the embassy compound carrying an undetermined number of Germans, French, Mexican, Korean and Venezuelan citizens toward neighboring Dominican Republic.

Rebel leaders, whose groups now control much of the northern part of Haiti, took Les Cayes -- the country's third-largest city -- Thursday, and claimed Friday their fighters were encircling the capital with the aim of choking it off.

Rebel leader Guy Philippe said the capital would be difficult to take, so his forces are planning a siege.

"We want to block Port-au-Prince totally, so we are going to send two boats here to stop the big boats coming from Miami with food and gasoline and make them come here to the Cap (Cap Haitien, Haiti's second-largest city, already taken by the rebels) and not Port-au-Prince," he said.

The rebels -- and separately, Aristide's political opposition -- contend his administration is corrupt and want him to leave office.

But Aristide vowed to serve out his term, slated to end in 2006, and said he will stay to fight against the rebels.

"You call them rebels," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview. "I call them by their names: They are killers, they are convicted killers, they are terrorists."

The former priest added, "My life is linked to the life of 8 million people. I have, as an elected president, the responsibility to do all what I can to have the international community joining Haiti to prevent those killers from coming to Port-Au-Prince, where we are."

Pressure mounts

Looters make off with goods from the capital's sea port.
Looters make off with goods from the capital's sea port.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department suggested Friday that the best way to end the crisis would be for Aristide to step down and transfer power to a constitutionally mandated successor.

"We think he should make the decision in the best interests of Haiti," a senior State Department official said. "If that involves him leaving, that is certainly an option."

Under Haiti's constitution, a president could transfer power to the head of the Haitian supreme court if he is incapacitated or unable to govern.

U.S. President George Bush said Friday the international community is "planning for a multinational force" that could be sent into Haiti if needed -- but only after a political settlement to the crisis is reached.

Aristide questioned the motives of the United States and the rest of the international community in waiting to take action, noting that Bush sent troops to Afghanistan to combat terrorism.

"In 2001, the world said 'No' to terror. Today, is it an issue of racism that Haiti cannot find the international community joining Haiti, saying 'No' to convicted killers?" he asked in a CNN telephone interview.

Aristide became Haiti's first democratically elected president in 1990. He was overthrown in a 1991 coup, restored to power by U.S. forces in 1994 and won a new term in 2000 in elections his political opponents claim were rigged.

Several Caribbean nations Thursday urged the U.N. Security Council to authorize an international force to enter the country. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed a special adviser to report directly to him on the situation, but the council did not immediately take action.

"The council acknowledged the call, and said it would consider all options, including that of an international force, and would continue to monitor the situation closely," said U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard.

Across the Atlantic, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin met Friday in Paris with a delegation from the Haitian government, urging quick action to implement a Caribbean Community-proposed solution to the tiny nation's crisis.

A spokesman for Villepin said the minister reiterated to the delegation a statement he had made Wednesday backing the Caricom action plan that calls for a power-sharing transitional government, led by an appointed prime minister, to rule until new elections can take place.

-- CNN Correspondents Lucia Newman in Port-au-Prince and Jeanne Meserve and Producers Kevin Bohn and Elise Labott in Washington contributed to this report.

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