PORT-AU-PRINCE — PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Angry soldiers attacked the legislative building where Senate leaders were meeting yesterday evening and forced them at gunpoint to name an interim president to replace ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Shooting at windows and storming into the building, a mob of 100 soldiers trapped the legislators inside after hearing rumors that they had agreed to demands by the Organization of American States that Father Aristide, who was overthrown eight days ago, be restored to office.
The besieged Senate voted to declare the presidency "vacant" and named Joseph Nerette, a senior Supreme Court justice, as interim president. The legislators also voted to hold new elections in 45 to 90 days.
At about the same time, another group of enraged soldiers at the international airport grabbed Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul, a staunch ally of Father Aristide, shot him in the hand and dragged him onto a military bus, according to journalists who witnessed the event.
Mr. Paul and a group of political leaders had been attempting to leave for Venezuela, where they had been invited by President Carlos Andres Perez to meet with Father Aristide, who flew there from the United States yesterday.
Mr. Paul was later freed and was reported in hiding, according to the Associated Press.
The OAS delegation, which included U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Bernard Aronson, was meeting with military and political leaders in an airport conference room at the time.
According to unconfirmed reports, some soldiers burst into the meeting room. U.S. Ambassador Alvin Adams and his bodyguards were confronted by armed soldiers as the diplomats left the room where Mr. Paul was seized.
The OAS delegation safely boarded a Canadian air force jet shortly afterward and flew to Washington, where the members are scheduled to report to the full OAS today.
The renegade soldiers' attacks and the legislature's action seemed likely to increase the chances that the OAS will take tough measures today against Haiti, including sending a military peacekeeping force to restore order and Father Aristide's presidency.
In Port-au-Prince, heavy automatic gunfire rang out continually last night, as soldiers in pickup trucks careered through the streets. They seemed to be acting spontaneously and without orders.
Tensions rose steadily all day as the diplomatic mission from the OAS, which held two days of talks with army and political leaders last week, flew back to Haiti unexpectedly from Washington yesterday in a last-ditch effort to persuade the leaders to permit Father Aristide's return.
Worried diplomats and political leaders expressed fears of a bloody spiral of street protests and military repression, whether Father Aristide is allowed to return or not.