PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Anarchy spread across Haiti’s capital Saturday as residents looted warehouses, government loyalists attacked passers-by and rebels advanced closer to the seat of power. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide ignored international appeals to resign.
Aristide loyalists robbed drivers for the U.S. and French embassies early Saturday, witnesses said. They said the French Embassy driver also was beaten.
Attacks against members or employees of the international community have increased in recent days since U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin called for Aristide to cede power amid rising violence.
Rebels were seen by an Associated Press reporter on Friday in Mirebalais, 25 miles northeast of Port-au-Prince.
In the capital, at least five people died Friday when pro-government militants unleashed a wave of attacks on bystanders, burning barricades, hijacking cars, and looting the city’s sole operating hospital.
The body of a man shot in the head was still on the street Saturday, just blocks from the National Palace. Four other bodies had been hauled away.
Looting continued, with people taking large bags of lentils donated by the U.S. Agency for International Development and held at a warehouse by the port. Looters were seen Saturday wearing stolen hospital gowns and carrying machetes.
Radio Vision 2000 suspended broadcasts after assailants shot at the building early Saturday morning. Some journalists have been targeted by pro-government thugs who perceive reports as biased against Aristide. At least two journalists have been killed in the last three years; nearly a dozen have gone into exile, fearing for their lives.
Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, said he would not step down before his term ends in February 2006.
Some 2,200 U.S. Marines were put on alert as Pentagon officials weighed the possibility of sending troops to waters off Haiti to guard against any flood of refugees and to protect the estimated 20,000 Americans in the Caribbean country.
Aristide has pleaded for a small contingent of foreign peacekeepers to quell the uprising that has killed more than 80 people since it began in the country’s north earlier this month.
“I have the responsibility as an elected president to stay where I am,” Aristide said. “My life is linked to 8 million people.”
The international community — led by the United States, France and Canada — has insisted that Haiti’s government and opposition reach a political settlement before foreign forces intervene.
A senior U.S. official said the Bush administration has concluded that the best way to prevent insurgents from seizing control is for Aristide to transfer power to Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre, his constitutional successor.
“We urgently call upon President Aristide to issue the necessary instructions so his supporters stop this violence,” the U.S. Embassy said, adding that “his honor, legacy and reputation are now at stake.”
The U.S. government urged all Americans still in Haiti to seek safe haven.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed increasing concern late Friday at “the alarming deterioration” in the country and called on Haitians to settle their differences peacefully.
His statement came as Aristide militants attacked the Canape Vert hospital, the only hospital still operating in Port-au-Prince. Radio stations said the militants were searching for Aristide opponents. Among the patients was a journalist accused of sympathizing with the rebels and shot in the northern city of Cap-Haitien, which was seized by the insurgents on Sunday.
The report could not be confirmed, but submachine gunfire could be heard and three green military helicopters hovered over Petionville, the hillside suburb where the hospital is located.
“The U.S. government is discouraged to report that pro-government groups have begun to burn, pillage and kill,” said the U.S. Embassy statement.
The city was chaotic. Armed thugs hijacked cars and robbed people at barricades.
Hundreds of looters began to pillage Port-au-Prince’s seaport on Friday, scurrying with boxes of chicken parts, pork loins, televisions and other goods.
Shops put up hurricane shutters and people stayed home behind locked doors, leaving the streets to pro-Aristide thugs. A few police patrolled in cars, but were vastly outnumbered by the militants.
The rebels, who have overrun half of Haiti, closed in on the capital, taken several villages as police fled.
Guy Philippe, the rebel commander, said rebels have encountered little resistance and he intended to besiege the capital and “close the circle” around Aristide.
“We want to block Port-au-Prince totally,” he said in Cap-Haitien. “Port-au-Prince now … would be very hard to take it. It would be a lot of fight, a lot of death,” Philippe said. “So what we want is desperation first.”