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Powell Suggests Haitian President Carefully Consider Leaving Office

By Christopher Marquis

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell distanced himself Thursday from Haiti’s president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, saying the embattled leader needs to make a “careful examination” of whether he should step down.

Powell did not call for Aristide’s departure -- as his French counterpart, Dominique de Villepin, did Wednesday -- but he signaled for the first time that Aristide’s resignation might be in the best interests of Haiti.

“I think it is a very difficult time for the Haitian people,” Powell said. “And I know that President Aristide has the interest of the Haitian people at heart. I hope he will just examine the situation that he is in and make a careful examination of how best to serve the Haitian people at this time.”

Aristide, in a television interview on Thursday, said he would not resign, and his Miami-based representative, Ira Kurzban, called Powell’s remarks “disgraceful.”

“The president is not leaving, and he’s made it clear today that despite the rumors and psychological warfare, he’s not leaving until his term is up in February 2006,” Kurzban said.

Powell’s comments were the most pointed indication yet from a Bush administration official that it views Aristide’s determination to serve out his term as an impediment to a peaceful resolution of a three-week-old uprising that has claimed the lives of about 70 people and left the northern half of the country in rebel control.

In Port-au-Prince, tensions mounted when rebel leaders said they were moving closer to an assault. At dusk flaming barricades went up across the city, and truckloads of armed masked men patrolled the streets.

Bernie Leon, manager of three terminals at the port, said more than a hundred people had looted shipping containers there. Many gas stations stopped selling fuel, leading to long lines at those that stayed open.