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U.S. accuses Aristide of orchestrating violence

Haitian president defiant in face of anarchy

Residents walk through the trash-strewn streets of Port-au-Prince on Saturday.
Residents walk through the trash-strewn streets of Port-au-Prince on Saturday.

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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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Jean-Bertrand Aristide

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNN) -- The White House accused Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of orchestrating the violence that has gripped the capital, Port-au-Prince, for days.

"In the last few days, gangs armed and directed by President Aristide have looted and attacked people and property in Port-au Prince," the White House said in a statement Saturday. "These attacks have targeted innocent civilians, humanitarian programs, and international organizations trying to help the Haitian people.

"Mr. Aristide must instruct his supporters to end this violence. Rebel forces approaching Port-au-Prince must cease their acts of violence to allow for a political solution."

Aristide vowed Saturday not to leave office before his term expires in 2006, even as the rebels seeking to drive him out of power advanced on the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Departure is "out of the question," Aristide said on state-run television. He predicted the chaos would be resolved and that Haitians would be back in their offices, carrying on business as usual, by Monday morning.

Aristide's comments came shortly before Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the situation in Haiti with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, senior State Department officials said.

"We are pretty much where we were yesterday, which is the international community putting pressure on Aristide to live up to his responsibilities and to think hard about his future," a senior State Department official said.

The State Department supports an arrangement under which Aristide would share power with his political opposition, but privately the United States continues to distance itself from Aristide and suggests it might be time for him to step down.

In Port-au-Prince, roadblocks were dismantled overnight and the streets Saturday morning appeared calmer than they had been Friday. But by Saturday afternoon, the looting and general disorder intensified.

For a second day, hundreds of people descended on warehouses near the port, carting away all that was not nailed down, including international aid supplies. Seven bodies were taken to the morgue at University Hospital overnight.

Machine gunners shot at the French ambassador's residence overnight, but no one was hurt, the French Embassy said.

A popular radio station, Vision 2000, also was attacked overnight by six armed men and shut down. That followed the loss of cable television service to much of the city Friday, leaving those households affected able to watch only government-run television.

Representatives of the U.S. and French embassies said they had no immediate plans to evacuate personnel. They urged embassy employees to remain in their homes until the situation eased.

"It's not an issue of safety," a senior State Department official said. "We're not going to shut down our mission because that's inconsistent with our desire to help Haitians solve this."

Rebels said they had advanced to within 30 miles of the capital, surrounding it with the aim of choking off supplies and ousting Aristide, whose election in 2000 they say was rigged.

Responding to a State Department appeal Friday to stop their advance and spare Port-au-Prince of violence "additional to that ... by pro-government armed gangs," rebel leader Guy Philippe said his forces would not attempt immediately to wrest control of the capital.

"If the U.S. asks us to stop the advance, we don't want to have any problem with the international community," Philippe said from Cap Haitien, the nation's second-largest city, in the breadbasket region of the north, which is largely under his control.

"We'll stay and sleep for one or two days, and after will decide. ... We'll keep on sending troops but we won't attack Port-au-Prince until we understand what the U.S. means."

Friday's scenes in Port-au-Prince reflected anarchy. Truckloads of pro-Aristide gangs and nonallied thugs looted stores, and police were nowhere to be seen. Bodies lay on the street, in some cases shot in the head, their hands tied behind their back.

A high-ranking police officer said Saturday that the police had been outnumbered Friday. It was not clear how much control they had regained Saturday.

Opportunities to flee the country were few. Two C-130 military aircraft landed at the capital's airport to evacuate foreign nationals.

For a second day, military helicopters from the Dominican Republic ferried foreign nationals from the embassy to the neighboring country.

But the border with the Dominican Republic was sealed, and all commercial flights were suspended from the capital's sole airport.

Meanwhile, those Port-au-Prince residents who dared venture out scrambled to stock up on supplies at the few stores still open.

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

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.

Aristide suggested racism was at the core of the international community's failure to intervene militarily on his behalf.

The United States was still weighing Saturday whether to dispatch a three-ship task force carrying 2,200 Marines to sit off the coast of Haiti, an administration official said.

The task force could -- for example -- be used to evacuate the U.S. Embassy if needed or assist in the departure of Aristide, if he were to decide to change his mind and leave the country.

It could also help if the Coast Guard were to become overwhelmed in its efforts to repatriate Haitians attempting to flee to the United States.

This week, the Coast Guard said it intercepted 531 Haitians as they tried to escape the chaos. Most were sent back to Port-au-Prince, but a few dozen who asked for asylum were kept aboard Coast Guard ships, where their claims will be investigated.

The repatriation incensed Democratic Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, who joined a number of his colleagues in signing a letter urging that protective status be made available to Haitians picked up fleeing the country.

"The idea of sending people back to the killing fields of Haiti is violative of all our values," he said.

In 1990, Aristide became Haiti's first democratically elected president. 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 fraudulent.

CNN's Lucia Newman, Jeanne Meserve, Kevin Bohn and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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