In Port-au-Prince, Haitians set up more blazing barricades to protect President Jean Bertrand Aristide. (Reuters)

LYDIA POLGREEN, The New York Times, Reports::

ORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 27 With a rising panic creeping across Haiti’s capital, truckloads of armed men, many in ski masks, patrolled the city today, vowing to slaughter anyone who dared challenge the embattled presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Looters pillaged warehouses at the city’s port, and at least four people were killed in violence sweeping through the city, triggered by rumors that rebel soldiers, who have taken several large cities, including Les Cayes, the nation’ third-largest city, according to The Associated Press, would soon march into Port-au-Prince to remove Mr. Aristide by force.

Armed loyalists of the president and his party, Lavalas, vowed to stop the rebel advance, brandishing M-16 rifles and handguns at barricades of flaming tires.

The city’s port was a mad scene of looting, with thousands of people streaming into a narrow entrance that had been pried open. Just outside the port gate lay the body a man killed earlier in the day he lay dressed in a pink shirt and black pants, a stream of blood congealing next to his head.

A 7-year-old boy wgo gave his name as Poupe came running out of the port with all the booty he could carry two bags of strawberry lollipops and an air filter for a car engine.

“I am going to sell them,” he said, holding the bags of candy aloft. “Maybe I will eat some, too.”

Residents of La Saline, a seaside slum next to the port, helped themselves to all manner of goods boxes of Brazilian pastries, calculators, packages of sanitary napkins, and soiled mattresses.

“These people have no choice but to do this,” said Tassy Frantzy, a 36-year-old telephone company worker, who lives in La Saline. He stood watching the frenzy but did not join in. “People hear false rumors and they panic they think Aristide is running away. But he will never run away.”

Elsewhere in the city, in the neighborhood Nauzon, Ronald Dacayet was drinking his morning coffee at his house at 6 a.m. when, he said, he heard gunshots just outside his gate. When he ran outside he saw two men lying on the sidewalk, bleeding from the brain. One man’s hands were bound by plastic ties, and rivulets of blood streamed from their wounds. Both men had been shot execution-style in the head.

“Every day we hear gunshots,” Mr. Dacayet said. “This is how we live now,” he said, gesturing to the dead men splayed on the sidewalk. He said he had never seen the men before.

Other witnesses said the two men had been brought by Lavalas militants and executed here on suspicion of cooperating with the rebels. Rebel leaders have said that they have operatives awaiting orders in Port-au-Prince.

The mutilated body of another man killed could be seen today lying on a commercial thoroughfare downtown.

At a pier in Carrefour, on the edge of the city, officers deposited boatloads of people who had been picked up by United States Coast Guard cutters as they tried to flee the violence to the United States.

An inspector at the depot, Dupiton Jean-Francois, said that 537 people were being repatriated, a sharp increase from the 100 to 200 that usually arrive.

Osner Sainta boarded a boat with his wife and two children on Feb. 17 in their hometown of Miragoane and headed for Miami. But their vessel, which carried 102 people, was intercepted before they even got past the Haitian coast, near Mole Saint-Nicholas at the northern tip of the island.

Gripping two toothbrushes that were given to her by Coast Guard officials and cradling her one-year-old son, Jefferson, in her lap, Mr. Sainta’s wife, Larose, spoke bitterly of their failed effort to escape as their country descended into chaos.

“We did not even get close,” she said. “There are too many problems here. We have to go away. We have no money to eat. We paid for our children’s school, but now the schools are closed. We have to go to America.”

As the family sat on a low wall, wondering how they would scratch together bus fare back to Miragoane, Mr. Sainta vowed to try again to leave as soon as possible.

“We will be back on the next boat,” he said.