Rebels close in on Haitian capital

The odds against Haiti's embattled President Jean Bertrand Aristide have increased with even the United States suggesting it is time for him to reconsider his position.

    Aristide insists he will stay in power until 2006

    Amid growing lawlessness and the imminent threat of a rebel-assault on capital Port-au-Prince, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Aristide would have to "carefully" consider whether he should remain in charge of his crisis-torn country.

    "I hope President Aristide will examine his position carefully," Powell said. "Judgement has to be made as to what is best for the people of Haiti in this most difficult time."

    "His is the democratically elected president but he has had difficulties in his presidency and I think, as a number of people have commented, whether or not he is able to effectively continue his presidency is something that he would have to examine," the Secretary of State added.

    Crumbling authority

    Powell's statement was the clearest indication yet that Aristide's position as the Haitian head has become nearly untenable.

    Underlining Aristide's dim prospects were fresh warnings from rebel boss Guy Philippe that his men would raid Port-au-Prince soon. He said the capital had already been surrounded by the rebels.

    "Everyone is killing innocent people so we cannot stand by and watch Aristide do this. So that is why we gave orders to surround Port-au-Prince," Philippe said.

    Sunday deadline

    He said he wanted to be in Port-au-Prince by Sunday to celebrate his 36th birthday.

    Philippe's threat came after his men seized the country's third largest city, Cayes.

    With the rebels closing in, nervous apprehensions swept Port-au-Prince.  Schools were closed and shops were shuttered as many people stayed home. Some foreigners and Haitians crammed the airport to flee.

    But unmindful of his crumbling authority, Aristide vowed again on Thursday to stay in office until 2006 when his term ends.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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