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Rebels kill two as Haiti uprising continues

GONAIVES, Haiti -- To cheers of approval, rebels set ablaze an accused government hit man and shot another man yesterday, raising the death toll to 46 in a popular uprising that began in this traditional hotbed of revolutionary fervor.

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in his first news conference since the uprising began, said he would not resign.

South of Gonaives, police attacked rebels holed up in a slum in the port city of St. Marc, and witnesses said gunmen loyal to Aristide torched homes, killing two people, as looting and reprisals raged.

In northern Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second-largest city, sporadic gunshots crackled overnight, attackers looted a food warehouse and Aristide militants set up blazing barricades to prevent a possible rebel incursion.

The armed revolt has spread to several of the nation's towns and cities since beginning a week ago in Gonaives, about 60 miles north of the capital, Port-au-Prince. But the weeklong rebellion has become somewhat of a stalemate, and much of the country remains quiet.

Critics have accused Aristide's government of inciting some of the violence, and the White House issued a rebuke yesterday.

"We are extremely concerned about the wave of violence spreading through Haiti," said Scott McClellan, press secretary to President Bush. "We call on the government to respect the rights, especially human rights, of the citizens and residents of Haiti."

Aristide, at the news conference, said the rebels -- whom he labeled terrorists -- were allied with the political opposition.

"They suffer from a small group of thugs linked to the opposition . . . acting on behalf of the opposition," Aristide told journalists in the capital, adding he would step down only when his term expires.

"I will leave the palace Feb. 7, 2006," he said, without addressing how he planned to put down the insurrection. His officials have said that, to prevent civilian casualties, any counterattacks must be carefully planned, which could take time.

Aristide will be tested today, as the Democratic Platform, a broad coalition that has distanced itself from the bloody revolt, has called for a massive demonstration for Haitians to show Aristide they no longer want his leadership.

"Aristide created the climate of violence and he will use the violence against him to justify an even greater violence," said Leslie Manigat, who was president for five months in 1988 before the army deposed him.

Opposition parties have refused to participate in new elections unless Aristide steps down. Tension has mounted since Aristide's party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000.

Many who once swore allegiance to Aristide have turned their guns on his police, saying the government is corrupt and has betrayed them.

They ask what Haitians have gained since escaped slaves defeated Napoleon's army 200 years ago and declared independence in Gonaives' central Place d'Armes.

"We're prepared to die for Gonaives," said Michelet Louis, among fighters who patrolled the rubble-strewn streets.

Crowds cheered as rebels swooped down on an alleged Aristide hit man and applied a common assassination method called "necklacing."

"They put tires on him and burned him," said Patricia Joseph, 17. "Everyone stood up and said it was good."

Rebels also shot an escaped convict and onetime Aristide supporter when he refused to surrender his rifle, according to witness Reynald Kazeles, 27. The man was shot eight times.

The uprising erupted here last week when rebels attacked the police station, torching it and the mayor's house.

The courthouse stood deserted yesterday; government offices were closed and hospitals understaffed. Supplies were running low and food prices have spiraled because barricades have blocked deliveries on Haiti's main south-north highway, which goes though Gonaives.

At a gas station where a scuffle broke out over the last dregs of gasoline, rebels thrust their rifles high in the air in warning and shouted, "Get in line! Don't push!"

The crowd obeyed but quickly scattered when someone set off a tear gas canister apparently seized from police who fled Gonaives.

"I want to resell [gas] to try to buy some flour to make food, because I'm starving," said Antrecil Petithomme, who appeared to be in her 60s.

Politicians have historically looked for support in Gonaives, the cradle of Haiti's independence movement and a traditional center of resistance that was a recruitment point for rebels in the 19th century.

Aristide was popular in the city when he won his second term in 2000 on promises to champion the poor. But his support began to erode as followers watched a new government elite emerge while little was done to improve lives assaulted by poverty and violence.

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