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Haiti's Opposition Still Wants Aristide Out - 2004-02-22

International efforts to bring an end to political strife in Haiti have been suspended in deadlock. Haitian opposition leaders are refusing to endorse an internationally-backed plan that would keep President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in office.

Weary negotiators representing the United States, Canada, the Organization of American States and CARICOM bore grim expressions after marathon talks with Haitian opposition leaders Saturday.

Bahamian Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell summed up the meeting this way: "While we did not get a yes [to the plan] - we did not get a no."

Rather than rejecting the plan out of hand, opposition leaders agreed to give a formal response on Monday.

The international proposal envisions forging a government of unity through the selection of a new prime minister and a cabinet that is palatable to both President Aristide and the opposition. The new government would serve through the remainder of Mr. Aristide's term, which ends in 2006.

Opposition leader Gerard Pierre Charles said the plan has its merits, but that Haiti needs a new president. "We want President Aristide to go, and we expressed our disagreement with the accord," he said. "We argued strenuously that there is no democratic way out of the crisis in Haiti if Aristide remains in power."

Should the opposition refuse to capitulate on that point, the international proposal would appear to be doomed. Canadian envoy Denis Caderre said the plan must be accepted in its entirety if it is to go into effect.

"We are not asking for the resignation of Aristide," he said. "What we have said is that if there is to be the full participation of international aid, you have to link it to the acceptance of the plan."

For his part, President Aristide threw his full support behind the plan after a separate meeting with the foreign envoys. "We are ready as a united people to work with our brothers in the opposition to protect the constitutional order," he said.

But Mr. Aristide stressed there will be no dealings with rebels who have seized control of several towns in the central and northern regions of the country. The Haitian leader repeatedly condemned the rebels as killers and terrorists. "I will not go ahead with any terrorist," he said. "If you choose violence, I am against you."

The rebel conflict has claimed more than 50 lives in Haiti over the last two weeks.