Political opposition groups in Haiti have postponed for 24 hours a final verdict on whether to accept a U.S. backed plan to forge a government of unity and reconciliation. The delay comes as Haiti's government and its backers scramble to prepare for possible rebel attacks.
At a news conference, opposition leaders said they agreed to postpone their decision on the international proposal after talking on Monday with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
But the opposition leaders stressed the extra time will not cause them to alter their demand that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resign. They said Mr. Powell offered no new proposals during the conversation, and that their position will not change.
They said Mr. Aristide is not to be trusted; that he has broken past agreements and is the root cause of violence and bloodshed that has swept the country.
"I am sending a warning to Artistide: you must go," said opposition leader Evans Paul. "Your appetite for power must not endanger our country."
The international plan, crafted by the United States, Canada, and international groups, calls for creating a new government acceptable to both Mr. Aristide and the opposition. It would leave the president in office through the end of his term in 2006. Foreign envoys said the plan would not be not subject to modification when they delivered it to Haiti Saturday.
For his part, President Aristide has accepted the proposal in its entirety. Mr. Aristide's prime minister, Yvon Neptune, urged the opposition to sign on to the plan Monday, saying it is fair to both sides.
Mr. Neptune also called on Haiti's people to join with police in defending Port-au-Prince against any rebel attacks. Insurgents bent on ousting President Aristide by force overran Haiti's second largest city Sunday, and now control all major municipalities in the north of the country.
At a news conference, Mr. Neptune gave a cryptic answer when asked whether international military intervention was now required to end the uprising. "We have terrorists that are sowing violence and death in various areas of the country," he said. "We expect the international community to be on the side of the constitution of Haiti."
The Bush Administration has said it has no plans to send troops to crush the rebellion. Haiti has no army of its own, and its small, poorly equipped police force has fled in advance of most rebel attacks so far.
The insurgents say their next target is Port-au-Prince. Monday, some 50 U.S. marines were deployed to Haiti to protect the U.S. embassy in the capital.
Meanwhile, in the neighborhoods surrounding President Aristide's official residence, civilian backers of the embattled leader have erected barricades in hopes of slowing any rebel attacks.
One resident, who declined to identify himself, said there was a rumor that the rebels were coming, and the police ran away. He later added that the people have nothing but sticks and stones to defend themselves.