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France tells Aristide to hand over power

PARIS, Feb 27 (AFP) – Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide must quickly resign and hand over the reins to a power-sharing government if he is to stop his country’s rapid slide towards “uncontrolled” bloodshed, France told a delegation of senior Haitian officials in Paris Friday.

“It’s for President Aristide, who bears a heavy responsibility in the current situation, to draw the consequences of the impasse,” French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told the group, which included his Haitian counterpart, Joseph Philippe Antonio, and Aristide’s cabinet director, Jean-Claude Desgranges, according to a foreign ministry spokesman.

“More than ever, it is time the Haitians work to put in place a transitional government of national unity, tasked with national reconciliation,” under the terms of a crisis plan put forward by the CARICOM organisation grouping Caribbean nations, the spokesman, Herve Ladsous, said.

France, the United States and Canada were all agreed on this course of action, he added.

“From now on, each hour counts if we are to avert a spiral of violence that would be uncontrollable,” de Villepin was quoted as telling Antonio.

Ladsous spoke immediately after the one-hour meeting between de Villepin and the Haitian officials, who left without comment to waiting media. Antonio cancelled a press conference scheduled for later Friday.

De Villepin had offered to hold separate talks with representatives of the Haitian opposition but they were unable to arrange a flight to Paris in time.

That meeting was now likely to take place next week, Ladsous said.Aristide, a former priest who was restored to power by a US-led military intervention in 1994 following a coup, said Thursday that he planned to remain president until the end of his current mandate in 2006.

But rebels, who are advancing on the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince after capturing half the country, have made his departure their principal demand.

More than 70 people have died in their insurrection, started three weeks ago amid widespread dissatisfaction with Aristide’s rule. Looting and thuggery have occurred in government-controlled areas as armed Aristide militias roam around.

France has taken the lead in international diplomacy on the crisis in Haiti, an impoverished French- and Creole-speaking former colony that shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.

Paris initially suggested the deployment of an international police force to the country and has been at the forefront of the Western push to urge a departure of Aristide.

The United States, which views the Caribbean as being in its zone of influence, at first resisted France’s proposals and insisted on a hands-off approach, but as the violence has continued it has started to change tack.

“I hope President Aristide will examine his position carefully and that judgments will be made as to what is best for the people of Haiti in this most difficult time,” said US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington on Thursday.

“He 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 as president is something that he will have to examine,” Powell added.

A small US force has been protecting an evacuation of foreigners from Haiti as the rebels have pushed on to Port-au-Prince.

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday expressed “deep concern” over the developments and said it will “consider urgently options for international engagement, including that of an international force in support of a political settlement.”


                                                              Subject: France news