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Haitian President Denounces Opposition, Vows to Serve Term

By Lydia Polgreen

The New York Times -- PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti, defiant in the face of an increasingly violent opposition aimed at removing him from office, denounced that movement on Monday as an attempt to overthrow the country’s elected government by force and declared that only he could prevent the outbreak of a bloody civil war.

“We have had 32 coups in our history,” Aristide said in an hour-long interview at the National Palace on Monday morning. “The result is what we have now: moving from misery to poverty. We need not to continue moving from one coup d’etat to another coup d’etat but from one elected president to another elected president.”

Asked whether he would consider stepping aside in order to prevent further bloodshed in a conflict that has killed dozens of people and paralyzed much the country, Aristide replied, “I will leave office Feb. 7, 2006. My responsibility is to precisely to prevent that from happening. What we are doing now is preventing bloodshed.”

Speaking in an anteroom outside his spacious office, Aristide called for armed opposition groups to lay down their weapons and for political opponents to begin discussions aimed at having new parliamentary elections as soon as possible.

“It is time for us to stop the violence and to go implementing the Caricom proposal for elections,” Aristide said, referring to the plan of the Caribbean Community, an organization of Caribbean states, to build trust between Aristide’s government and opposition groups as part of the groundwork for new parliamentary elections.

Political strife has swept the country since 2000, when a dispute over parliamentary elections that the Organization of American States and other foreign observers said were flawed led opposition political parties to boycott the presidential election later that year.

The confrontation has escalated as opposition groups took to the streets to protest what they described as Aristide’s increasingly autocratic style.