France blamed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Wednesday for the instability in the country, stopping just short of asking him to step down.

In a statement, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Aristide bore a heavy responsibility for the chaos, adding that, "Everybody can see that this is the time to open a new chapter in the history of Haiti."

De Villepin said the international community must take urgent action because Haiti is on the verge of chaos.

He called for an "immediate" international civilian force to restore public order in Haiti and provide support for the international community.

France also wants human rights observers and a long-term international presence aimed at reconstructing Haiti's economy and its society.

The foreign minister said he spoke several times with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, other foreign diplomats and Haitian political officials.

He's expected to meet on Friday in Paris with representatives of the government and the opposition.

Rebel leader Guy Philippe has said his forces would delay attacking the capital to see if Aristide will leave office.

The United States has already dispatched 50 Marines to Haiti. And Ottawa announced on Wednesday that it's sending nine members of the special operations unit Joint Task Force 2.

They will join a few Canadian Forces planners already in the country preparing for the possible evacuation of more than 1,000 Canadians.

Some foreigners are trying to flee the country. Panic overtook the capital Port-au-Prince on Wednesday, although there was no sign of the rebels who have overrun half of Haiti.

Roads all over Port-au-Prince were blocked by dozens of flaming barricades, shops were shuttered and hotels were barred against looters.

The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted a freighter off the coast of Miami Wednesday. It was carrying 21 Haitians and seven crew members, a Coast Guard spokesperson said.

Officials say they are investigating whether the vessel was hijacked by people trying to flee Haiti.

The incident happened just hours after U.S. President George W. Bush ordered the Coast Guard to turn back any illegal immigrants trying to reach the U.S. from Haiti.