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U.S. Marines Head to Haiti to Guard Embassy

BY Admin  February 23, 2004 at 1:00 PM EST

As the revolt entered its 19th day, at least 70 people have been killed in clashes between rebels intent on ousting Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office and armed pro-government forces. Police stations have been burned and officers killed as the rebels have taken over more than a dozen towns.

Rebels met little resistance when they seized the northern port city of Cap-Haitien on Sunday. Police officers and armed Aristide supporters fled the city as the rebels burned the police station, and people looted the port warehouses and airport.

The rebels now hold a substantial part of the northern Haiti, but say the revolt will end when Aristide steps down.

“All we want is one thing — for Mr. Aristide to leave. We are waiting for the president to leave in peace,” rebel commander Guy Philippe told The Miami Herald. “It’s a matter of freedom.  It’s not easy for the people with Aristide still in power.”

Political tensions in the country have been simmering since 2000 when Aristide’s Lavalas Party took a number of legislative seats in what many considered to be flawed elections. Opposition groups boycotted the presidential election later that year in which Aristide was reelected.

Opponents have staged demonstrations, which turned violent when a gang once loyal to Aristide revolted in Gonaives on Feb. 5.

Armed anti-Aristide groups on Monday reportedly attacked two police stations outside Port-au-Prince, causing the police to flee. The police force has dwindled to about 4,000 officers in the country of approximately 8 million people. With the rebels advancing, Aristide supporters began building barricades to protect the capital city.

The U.S. ambassador in Haiti, James Foley, requested the help of U.S. troops, who are trained in counterterrorism, Pentagon officials told CNN.

Over the weekend, the Pentagon ordered the departure of all family members and non-emergency personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, about 100 miles south of Cap-Haitien.

An international delegation led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega traveled to Haiti on Saturday but left without an agreement from mainstream opposition leaders to end the political violence in the Caribbean nation.

Aristide had told the delegation he would share power with his longtime political rivals, but the opposition continued to demand that he step down.

The president has said he will not leave office before his current five-year term ends in February 2006.