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Haitian Government Urges Citizens to Defend Capital - 2004-02-23

Haiti's embattled government is calling on the people to help defend the capital from rebels who seized the country's biggest city in the north Sunday. The appeal came hours before a deadline for the country's political opposition to accept a U.S. backed plan aimed at ending political strife.

At a news conference, Prime Minister Yvon Neptune urged Haiti's people to join with police and use all means at their disposal to protect Port-au-Prince from possible rebel attacks.

Sunday, the insurgents overran Cap Haitien, which had been the last major municipality to remain under government control in the north, and said they were aiming for Port-au-Prince.

The capital is abuzz with unconfirmed rumors that rebel forces have already infiltrated the city. Civilian backers of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have barricaded roads near the president's official residence, but say police in the area fled after recent attacks on two police stations on the outskirts of the capital.

Meanwhile, Haitian political opposition groups are holding firm in their demand that President Aristide leave office if they are to join a government of unity, as proposed by the United States, Canada and international organizations. Without the opposition's participation, the plan, which already has Mr. Aristide's blessing, cannot go forward.