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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 February, 2004, 11:28 GMT
Haiti rebels halt capital assault
Guy Philippe in rebel headquarters
Philippe is directing the assault from headquarters in the north
Haitian rebel leader Guy Philippe says he has decided to hold off an attack on the besieged Haitian capital Port-au-Prince for "a day or two".

Speaking from his headquarters in northern Haiti, Mr Philippe said he was acting on a request from Washington.

The streets of the capital are quieter after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide appealed for calm, reports suggest.

But the US White House has said Mr Aristide is directly to blame for the crisis, in its strongest criticism yet.

A written statement questioned the Haitian president's "fitness to continue to govern Haiti".

"This long-simmering crisis is largely of Mr Aristide's making," said President George W Bush's press secretary.

"His failure to adhere to democratic principles has contributed to the deep polarization and violent unrest that we are witnessing in Haiti today."

At least eight people were feared killed by armed gangs loyal to the president on Friday.

The rebels are demanding Mr Aristide's resignation - which he continues to insist is out of the question.

Mr Philippe said he had not been directly contacted by the US authorities.

He said he saw their request to hold back an assault on the capital on the internet, and that although his forces would continue to converge on Port-au-Prince, they would not attack for the time being.

'Not good'

Previously Mr Philippe had pledged to be in the capital for his 36th birthday on Sunday.

After an earlier rebuke from the US for failing to rein in the gangs, Mr Aristide appeared in a national TV address on Saturday.

"We condemn that [looting]. When it's not good, we have to say it's not good," he said.

He called on Haitians to stop carjacking and thefts but to continue to barricade the city against any attack by rebels, who control half the country.

But the president again rejected suggestions from the US and France, among others, that he should stand down, saying it was "out of the question".

Our correspondent in Port-au-Prince, Stephen Gibbs, says Port-au-Prince is quieter, and that in some areas the gangs have disappeared from the streets and barricades are now unmanned.

But he says gangs raided hospitals overnight, threatening patients and doctors, and stealing money.

'Bodies piling up'

Reports suggest at least eight corpses have been seen on the streets, many killed execution-style with a bullet to the head.

Associated Press reporters visited a city morgue, where Dr Ted Lazarre told them bodies were "piling up".

"Most ambulances coming in are bringing corpses. Yesterday they brought in 25-30 bodies alone," Dr Lazarre was reported to have said.

Haitians walk past a crooked billboard of President Aristide
Haitians went out in search of supplies during the capital's uneasy calm
Supplies are dwindling in the capital, and many residents took advantage of the precarious calm on Saturday morning to go out in search of food.

Looting continued at the city docks, with hundreds of people breaking into US aid shipments and hauling off merchandise and sacks of lentils.

Earlier, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR expressed concern about the plight of the Haitian people, urging neighbouring countries not to repatriate refugees.

Cuba, Jamaica and Canada have said they will not send people back, but President George W Bush has warned Haitians they will be sent home if they try to flee to the US.

The US Coast Guard said it had intercepted some 500 people in boats fleeing Haiti in the past few days and sent them back.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin reportedly discussed the crisis on Saturday with US Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

A spokesman for Mr de Villepin said he had reiterated that Paris and its partners would provide a peace force in Haiti if Mr Aristide "drew the necessary conclusions" and agreed to relinquish power to a government of national unity.

The BBC's Claire Marshall
"This is now a city that is falling apart"


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