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Haitian President Warns Violence Could Spark Wave of Boat Refugees

Haiti's president appealed Tuesday for the world to come to Haiti's aid, warning that a rebel uprising could lead to thousands of deaths and a wave of boat people.

Speaking at the national palace, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide warned of an impending refugee crisis. He said Haitians fleeing rebel fighting and lawlessness in the north of the country should come to Port-au-Prince. But he said that many people may choose a different option.

"We may have more Haitians leaving Haiti by boat to go to Florida," he said. "They will take to the sea. They will become boat people. How many of them will die before reaching Florida, I do not know."

Mr. Aristide described rebel attacks as a "genocide" and made his most direct plea to date for foreign help to restore order. He said, "the presence of the international community in Haiti, increasing the number of police working in Haiti - we are eager to welcome an international presence to add to those who are already in Haiti."

The United States has said it has no plans to deploy troops in Haiti. France has said it would be willing to send military units, but only if the effort has the backing of the United Nations.

Monday, Mr. Artistide's prime minister, Yvon Neptune, called on Haitians to work with police in defending Port-au-Prince from possible rebel attack. The insurgents, who overran the country's second largest city, Cap-Haitien, Sunday, have said they are now aiming for the capital. Outside the national palace, a crowd of Aristide backers pledged to defend the president to the death, shouting "five years" - the length of Mr. Aristide's full term in office.

One demonstrator said, "We are willing to die with the government." He added that the international community recognized President Aristide when he was elected, and now is duty-bound to protect him from what he called, "terrorists."