Witnesses said the demonstrators, who gathered at the presidential palace before heading to the embassy, made several circles around the facility in downtown Port-au-Prince, chanting pro-Aristide slogans to traditional music as tensions once again soared in the capital amid surging violence.

Some shouted out criticism of the US-led war in Iraq, but the demonstration was generally peaceful, although several carloads of masked men accompanied the marchers, the witnesses added.

The president has repeatedly rejected mounting international pressure, as well as demands by political oppoenents and an armed insurgency, to step down.

US blames Aristide

Shortly after the protesters left the embassy, the White House issued a statement blaming Aristide for much of the country's current crisis and questioning his fitness to remain in office. 

The US placed the blame for violence and bloodshed in the country squarely on Aristide and, in its most direct language yet, urged him to consider stepping down. 

"This long-simmering crisis is largely of Mr Aristide's making"

White House statement

"We condemn the violence in Haiti. Many are engaged in it. All should end their senseless looting and killing. In the last few days, gangs armed and directed by President Aristide have looted and attacked people and property in Port-au-Prince ... 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," the White House statement said.

"This long-simmering crisis is largely of Mr Aristide's making.
His failure to adhere to democratic principles has contributed to the deep polarisation and violent unrest that we are witnessing in Haiti today. 

"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 statement added.