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Haiti's Aristide Agrees to Internationally-Backed Peace Plan

Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide says he has agreed to an internationally-backed plan to form a new government with his political opponents.

But Mr. Aristide Saturday ruled out dealing with what he called thugs and terrorists from rebel groups who have led a violent uprising in northern Haiti over the past two weeks.

Opposition leaders are meeting this hour with a U.S.-led team of foreign diplomats in the capital Port-au-Prince, to discuss the plan. The opposition has said it will reject any deal that does not force Mr. Aristide to leave office.

The internationally-backed plan calls for appointment of a neutral prime minister and an interim governing council, while allowing President Aristide to remain in office until his term ends in 2006. The deal also provides for the disarmament of street gangs loyal to the president and those who oppose him.

The international team from the United States, Canada, France and the 15-nation Caribbean Community has set a Monday deadline to reach an agreement on the plan.

Friday, pro-Aristide gangs attacked anti-government protesters in Port-au-Prince, injuring at least 14 people. At least 55 people have died in clashes involving armed groups and the police.

Despite the current turmoil, annual carnival celebrations are getting under way in Haiti. Mr. Aristide has decreed this year's pre-Lenten holiday will last five days, in part to mark the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence.

The desperately poor Caribbean nation has been torn by political dissension since disputed legislative elections more than three years ago.