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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 16:17 GMT
World moves to stem Haiti crisis
Haitians walk past burning rubbish near the port in downtown Cap-Haitien
The air is heavy with the stench of burning tyres on barricades
Urgent international meetings have been called to address the spiralling crisis in Haiti where rebels are threatening to advance on the capital within days.

As armed militias loyal to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide prepare their defences in Port-au-Prince, France has called for outside intervention.

A Haitian government delegation is now in France for talks on the crisis.

Foreigners and Haitians have been flocking to the city's airport in a desperate bid to flee.

The threat is real
Mildred Aristide
Haitian First Lady

The French foreign minister appeared to call on Mr Aristide to resign.

"As far as President Aristide is concerned, he bears grave responsibility for the current situation," said Dominique De Villepin.

"Everyone sees quite well that a new page must be opened in Haiti's history, while respecting the dignity and integrity of all the protagonists."

The Haitian team, led by foreign minister, Joseph Philippe Antonio, is due to hold talks with Mr De Villepin in Paris on Friday.

Both the United Nations and the permanent council of the Organisation of American States (OAS) are due to hold urgent debates on Haiti later on Thursday.

Rebel leader Guy Philippe claimed to have sealed off Port-au-Prince "almost entirely" as news emerged that President Aristide had sent his own daughters to safety in the US.

"I did choose to send them [the two girls] to my parents who are outside of Haiti because the stress is difficult on them," Mildred Aristide, his wife, told CNN. "I did send them because the threat is real."

New peace plan

Mr De Villepin outlined a five-point plan to end the "chaos", including a peacekeeping force, international assistance for a presidential election, humanitarian aid, a human rights observer mission and a long-term commitment to reconstruction.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said he had spoken to his French counterpart but suggested that there were no plans for sending in peacekeepers at this stage.

The UN Security Council is due to hold emergency talks in New York on Thursday at the request of Jamaica, head of the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom).

Separate talks are also to be held by the OAS in response to the Haitian opposition's rejection of a US-sponsored peace plan this week.

The Haitian rebel leader. speaking from Cap Haitien, threatened to lead an attack on the capital by Sunday - his birthday - but added that he wanted to first "give peace a chance".

Gun law

Law and order has begun to break down in Port-au-Prince where heavily armed loyalist militiamen have been attempting to rally morale ahead of the expected attack.

The BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Port-au-Prince says the semblance of normality that continued even as rebels were taking over northern towns and cities has almost all but gone.

Militiamen wearing ski masks have been stopping cars, threatening and sometimes robbing the passengers, he says.

Food warehouses, car dealers and restaurants in the capital have been looted.

The rebels have captured the northern half of Haiti since the uprising was launched in early February. More than 70 people have been killed in the violence.

The unrest stems from disputed elections in 2000. The political opposition fears that Mr Aristide will rig legislative elections due in 2004 and seek to stand for a third term in 2005.

President George W Bush has said the US will support an international security presence - but only once a peace deal had been reached.

The BBC's Claire Marshall
"Those who don't have a ticket out are preparing themselves for the worst"


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