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Looting Subsides  in Port-au-Prince Following President's  Call to Halt Violence - 2004-02-28


Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince was tense but relatively calm on Saturday after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide called on his supporters to stop the violence that paralyzed the capital on Friday. Rebels who were moving rapidly south toward the capital appear to have suspended their advance for the time being.

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide told his supporters to take down their barricades during daylight hours, giving Port-au-Prince residents several hours to buy food and other supplies as well as clean up debris left over from a day of violent protests on Friday.

The city's port was ransacked on Friday and there was considerable property damage following the protests which shut down the city. About a half-a-dozen people were killed in the violence.

One of the targets of the violence was the Radio Vision 2000, which was raked by machine-gun fire just before dawn on Saturday. Station director Leopold Berlanger, who told his staff to stay home for the time being, says Haiti has entered a period of extreme lawlessness.

"I mean this is hopeless for us," he said. "You cannot go to the police, you cannot go to the courts, what can you do. If somebody comes with heavy machine guns, you cannot put security guards at the door to stop them. I mean it is a situation where you have no means to face this situation."

Mr. Aristide made his appeal on national television where he repeated he will not step down. He urged his followers to remain vigilant and warned that rebels who control much of Haiti's north may have infiltrated Haiti's capital.

Mr. Aristide's address came following a sternly worded statement from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, that called on the Haitian president to tell his followers to stop their rampage. The statement also called on rebels to halt their advance to spare the capital from further violence something they say they have done for the time being.

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