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Armed Aristide Supporters Shut Down Capital as Rebels Advance - 2004-02-27

Armed gangs of government supporters in Haiti shut down the capital Port-au-Prince on Friday, blocking roads with barricades. Rebels in northern Haiti say they are ready to move on the capital, as international pressure is increasing to bring an end to the crisis.

Hundreds of gangs of government supporters, known as Chimeres, or ghosts, erected barricades all over Port-au-Prince in a show of strength, designed to intimidate the population.

There are numerous incidents of people pulled from their cars and robbed as the security situation in the capital deteriorated on Friday. Few police were visible, and nearly all businesses in the capital were forced to close. The capital's main airport is closed, and international flights suspended.

In Haiti's second largest city, Cap Haitien, rebel commander Guy Philippe says his forces are ready to seize Port-au-Prince, but are waiting to see if President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigns -- something both the rebels and Haiti's political opposition are demanding.

Pressure on Mr. Aristide mounted on Friday, after France called for a new power-sharing government, without Mr. Aristide. On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Mr. Aristide should carefully consider whether he can stay on as president.