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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 February, 2004, 10:54 GMT
Haiti revolt spreads to new town
Man rides past flaming barricade at the entrance to Gonaives
The wave of unrest began in Gonaives in early February
A rebellion by opponents of Haiti's embattled president has spread further with a new attack north of the capital.

About 50 men attacked a police station in the town of Hinche, killing three people - one of them the police chief.

The rebels are now reported to control the town and two major roads leading into the north of the country.

France has raised the possibility of an international peace force being sent to Haiti, where the recent wave of unrest has left about 50 people dead.

"We have the capacity to intervene and... many friendly countries are ready to do so," Foreign Minister Dominique De Villepin said.

His comments followed an appeal by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide for the international community to help put down the rebellion which has seen armed opponents take over a string of towns in the north.

Neighbouring Dominican Republic has expressed alarm about the unrest, warning it could not cope on its own if there were a mass exodus of Haitians.

On Monday it closed its 360km (224 mile) border with French-speaking Haiti.

'Terrorists attack democracy'

Armed men demanding Mr Aristide's resignation took charge of Gonaives, the fourth-largest city, earlier this month.

Various groups have since taken over a string of other towns and repulsed a government attempt to retake Gonaives.

In an attempt to restore calm in the central town of Hinche, the police chief in the capital Port-au-Prince, about 130 km (80 miles) to the south-west, said reinforcements were being sent.

But reports from the town said local police had been forced out and were re-grouping 55km (35 miles) to the south.

The president, a former priest, is the target of growing pressure to step down from opposition politicians and armed rebel groups.

He has refused to give any details about plans to deal with the rebellion, except that he intended to use peaceful means.

Our fight is for a better country
Guy Philippe
ex-police chief

"A group of terrorists are breaking democratic order," Mr Aristide told reporters on Monday.

"I have already asked and I will continue to ask the international community and prime ministers of the region to move faster on this issue."

Discontent has grown in Haiti since Mr Aristide's party won the 2000 elections which opponents accuse him of rigging.

The opposition refuse to take part in any elections unless the president steps down.

Aid gets through

On Monday, rebels escorted a Red Cross convoy carrying much-needed supplies including medical goods to Gonaives, where the unrest began on 5 February.

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, 16 Feb 2004
Aristide: Restored to power with foreign help in 1994
To keep the police and government supporters from retaking Gonaives, the rebels have pushed shipping containers blocking the highway leading to the town.

Although the rebels are thought to control about 11 towns and cities, their number is also thought to be less than that of Haiti's 5,000 police force.

However they have been joined by exiled paramilitary leaders and police.

"Our fight is for a better country. We are fighting for the presidency, we're fighting for the people, " said Guy Philippe, a former police chief who is accused of trying to organise a coup in 2002.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Claire Marshall
"The rebel commander is in a militant mood"



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