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Aristide flees Haiti; Bush sends marines
Updated: 2004-03-01 07:51

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned and flew into exile Sunday, pressured by foreign governments and a bloody rebellion. Gunfire crackled as the capital Port-au-Prince fell into chaos, and Washington dispatched Marines.

The Marines were expected to arrive Sunday night, a U.S. official said, and France also said it was sending troops. They would be the vanguard of a multinational force that the United Nations Security Council was to consider later Sunday, and the Bush administration hoped for quick approval.

"The government believes it is essential that Haiti have a hopeful future. This is the beginning of a new chapter," President Bush said at the White House. "I would urge the people of Haiti to reject violence, to give this break from the past a chance to work. And the United States is prepared to help."

After word spread of the president's departure, angry Aristide supporters roamed the streets armed with old rifles, pistols, machetes and sticks. Some fired wildly into crowds on the Champs de Mars, the main square in front of the National Palace.

On the main John Brown Boulevard, Aristide followers armed with shotguns set up a roadblock; at the same spot, hours later, they had disappeared - leaving behind the bullet-riddled bodies of three men sprawled inside an all-terrain vehicle.

The head of Haiti's supreme court said he was taking charge of the government, and a key rebel leader said he welcomed the arrival of foreign troops.

"I think the worst is over, and we're waiting for the international forces. They will have our full cooperation," Guy Philippe told CNN.

The U.N. Security Council planned consultations for later Sunday, and the United States hoped it would approve a resolution to authorize international peacekeepers for Haiti, which erupted into violence 3 1/2 weeks ago when rebels began driving police from towns and cities in the north.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, would not say how many Marines were expected in the speedy deployment, which President Bush ordered only hours after Aristide fled under pressure from the United States and former colonial power France.

France decided to send a detachment of between 120-140 soldiers to Haiti, said Catherine Colonna, spokeswoman for President Jacques Chirac. She said the troops would arrive on Monday and they would work "in coordination with the United States."

A 50-member Marine anti-terrorist security team has been in Port-au-Prince for several days helping secure the U.S. embassy. Canadian troops were seen guarding the airport in Port-au-Prince.

Though not aligned with rebels, the political opposition had also pushed for Aristide to leave for the good of Haiti's 8 million people, angered by poverty, corruption and crime. The uprising - only the most recent violence in this Caribbean nation - killed at least 100 people.

Anarchy reigned in Port-au-Prince. Inmates were freed from the National Penitentiary and several other jails around the country. The casualty toll was unknown.

Looters emptied a police station and hit pharmacies, supermarkets and other businesses, mostly on the capital's outskirts.

"Chop off their heads and burn their homes," rioters screamed, echoing the war cry of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the general who ousted French troops and torched plantations to end slavery in Haiti.

Some anti-Aristide militants organized armed posses that prowled the streets in pickup trucks, searching for Aristide supporters. In the back of one a man lay unconscious - or dead - with a head wound.

But police moved in during the afternoon, scared away the crowd in the front of the palace, and the violence ebbed.

Residents sat outside their homes in the tropical heat, some listening intently to radios pressed against their ears. Police patrolled several neighborhoods.

James Voltaire, 28, said Haiti's constitution had been violated. "Whoever the president is, it's going to be a losing situation. As long as we don't see our real president (Aristide) we will stay mobilized," he warned.

Prime Minister Yvon Neptune told a press conference that Aristide resigned to "prevent bloodshed," but there were conflicting reports on where the ex-leader would go.

Aristide's jet refueled on the island of Antigua and was en route to South Africa, government and airport officials in that Caribbean country said. But officials in Johannesburg said there had been no recent contact with Aristide nor an offer of asylum.

Another U.S. official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said South Africa was the country most often mentioned. Secretary of State Colin Powell conferred on Saturday with South African President Thabo Mbeki.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Aristide was going to a "third" country, meaning he would not take refuge in the United States as he did the last time he was ousted, in 1991.

Powell also spoke by telephone with the foreign ministers of Argentina, France, Jamaica and Panama. Other reports said Aristide would go to Morocco, Taiwan or Panama.

Panama's president said she would consider granting the former Catholic priest asylum but had not been asked. But officials in Taiwan said there were no plans to shelter Aristide, and Morocco said he was not welcome. Costa Rica offered to provide temporary political asylum Aristide but he decided to go somewhere in Africa instead, Security Secretary Rogelio Ramos said Sunday.

Three hours after Aristide's departure, Supreme Court Justice Boniface Alexandre declared at a news conference that he was taking over as called for by the constitution. He urged calm.

"The task will not be an easy one," said Alexandre. "Haiti is in crisis. ... It needs all its sons and daughters. No one should take justice into their own hands."

Alexandre, in his 60s, has a reputation for honesty. Despite his declaration that he was in charge, the Haitian constitution calls for parliament to approve him as leader, and the legislature has not met since early this year when lawmakers' terms expired.

Half the country is in the hands of the rebels, including former soldiers of the army that Aristide disbanded during a political career tainted by alleged fraud.

Philippe, the rebel leader, told The Associated Press his forces would head for the capital but would not engage in any further fighting.

"The time is not for fighting anymore," Philippe said in an interview with CNN.

He also said rebels wanted to take part in any negotiations about Haiti's future, but had already accepted Alexandre as president.

"We just hope no country will accept Aristide, so they will send him back to be judged. He did bad things," Philippe, a former police chief, said at a rebel headquarters in the key northern port town of Cap-Haitien. He told CNN his men would be in the capital by Sunday night or Monday morning.

Another rebel commander, Winter Etienne, said the fighters - a motley group also led by a former army death squad commander and a former pro-Aristide street gang chief - would disarm once a new government is installed.

As he spoke, rebels rode through Cap-Haitien in trucks, waving at hundreds of people who danced and sang in the streets in celebration.

Crisis in Haiti under Aristide has been brewing since his party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000 and international donors froze millions of dollars in aid.

Opponents also accused him of breaking promises to help the poor, allowing corruption fueled by drug-trafficking and masterminding attacks on opponents by armed gangs - charges the president denied.

It was the second time the 50-year-old former slum pastor fled his country. Aristide was ousted in a 1991 coup, months after he was elected president for the first time. He was restored to power three years later by U.S. troops.

President Bill Clinton sent 20,000 troops to restore Aristide but insisted he respect a constitutional term limit and step down in 1995.

Aristide picked his successor, Rene Preval, but was considered the power behind the scenes until he won a second term in 2000. Those elections were marred by a low turnout and an opposition boycott.

It was not clear where Aristide's wife was. The ex-president and Mildred Trouillot Aristide had sent their two daughters to her mother in New York City last week.

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