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Haitian Militants Hold Key City, Demand President Resign - 2004-02-07

Militants in Haiti who are demanding the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have taken control of the impoverished Caribbean nation's western port of Gonaives.

The militants are said to be heavily armed. The government has ordered police reinforcements to Gonaives to end the uprising, but the militants say they will only set down their weapons if Mr. Aristide steps down.

The president's opponents, who call themselves the Gonaives Resistance Front, say they intend to spread their uprising to other cities and towns across Haiti, which has a population of more than 7.5 million. Gonaives, with a population of well over 200,000, has been a center of activity by Mr. Aristide's opponents for more than a year.

Looters and gunmen have been moving freely through Gonaives since Thursday. The home of the city's pro-Aristide mayor has been burned down, along with police and fire stations, gasoline sellers and a number of other businesses. More than 100 prisoners were freed when a mob stormed the city's jail.

At least seven people have been shot to death during the past 48 hours, and dozens of others were wounded.

Opposition groups have accused Mr. Aristide of corruption and human rights violations, but the president, a former Roman Catholic priest, says he intends to remain in office until his term ends in two years.

Mr. Aristide was elected as Haiti's first democratic leader in 1990, but was ousted by a coup within months. The United States restored him to power in 1994, and he was elected to a second five-year term as president in November of 2000.