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US blames Aristide, urges him to leave power
Updated: 2004-02-29 10:25

The United States on Saturday blamed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide for the bloody revolt he is facing and called on him to leave power for the good of his country.

As armed rebels pushed closer to the capital Port-au-Prince, the White House said Aristide needed to accept responsibility for breaching democratic principles and dividing the country.

"This long-simmering crisis is largely of Mr. Aristide's making," the White House said in a written statement. "His own actions have called into question his fitness to continue to govern Haiti."

"We urge him to examine his position carefully, to accept responsibility, and to act in the best interests of the people of Haiti," the White House added.

The harsh words from the Bush administration added to pressure on Aristide. France has also called on him to quit in order to help resolve an armed rebellion that began on Feb. 5.

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

President Bush, who faces a re-election vote in November, was criticized by Democratic front-runner John Kerry for "neglect" of the political instability in Haiti. The Massachusetts senator had called for the naming of a special envoy to help end the crisis.

Bush earlier this week met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus after they rushed over to the White House to express concern about the administration's refusal to stand up for democratically elected Aristide.


The Haitian leader is facing anarchy and food shortages as a band of former soldiers and gang members are advancing on the capital in a bid to overthrow him.

At least 65 people have been killed during the revolt against Aristide, accused of corruption and political thuggery by foes. The toll is likely higher, aid workers say.

His armed and hooded supporters, known as the feared "chimeres," have been setting up burning barricades and terrorizing Port-au-Prince's population while rampaging in small trucks around the chaotic capital.

The president, who was restored to power by the United States a decade ago after a coup, is a former priest and one-time populist hero of Haitian democracy who is backed by an ill-trained, 4,000-member police force and armed supporters from the slums.

If Aristide leaves, U.S. officials would like to see a transition take place that is rooted in Haiti's constitution. Under the constitution, Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre would be in line take over as acting president until elections were held.

U.S. officials continue to insist their are seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis, although the Pentagon has been weighing some options in the event of a decision by Bush to intervene.

The White House said the United States would be prepared to support a multinational peacekeeping force if a "sustainable" political solution is found in Haiti.

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