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Archive for Monday, March 1, 2004

Marines land in Haiti after Aristide flees

President resigns to prevent further bloodshed

March 1, 2004

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— President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned and flew into exile Sunday, pressured by a bloody rebellion and the United States. Gunfire crackled as the capital fell into chaos, and U.S. Marines arrived in the country.

The contingent totaled fewer than 100 Marines and more were to arrive today. They were the vanguard of a multinational force that the U.N. Security Council approved late Sunday night, and France said it would send troops today.

"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."

Aristide's whereabouts were uncertain late Sunday, with officials saying his jet stopped to refuel in the Caribbean island nation of Antigua. A senior Caribbean Community official said Aristide told him during the refueling stop he was bound for South Africa.

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.

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 crisis has been brewing since Aristide's party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000, prompting international donors to freeze millions of dollars in aid.

Opponents also accused Aristide 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.

Haitians celebrate, some shouting "He's gone!," after news of
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's departure reaches northern
Cap-Haitien, Haiti. Aristide on Sunday fled Haiti, bowing to
pressure from a rebellion at home and governments abroad, U.S. and
Haitian officials said.

Haitians celebrate, some shouting "He's gone!," after news of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's departure reaches northern Cap-Haitien, Haiti. Aristide on Sunday fled Haiti, bowing to pressure from a rebellion at home and governments abroad, U.S. and Haitian officials said.

The discontent erupted into violence 3 1/2 weeks ago as rebels began driving police from towns and cities in the north.

Anarchy quelled

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 killed at least 100 people.

Anarchy reigned for most of the day in Port-au-Prince. More than 3,000 inmates held in the National Penitentiary were released. 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.

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.

It was unclear where Aristide would go. U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said he 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.

Rebel leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain sits atop a car, at right, after
news of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's departure
reached northern Cap-Haitien.

Rebel leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain sits atop a car, at right, after news of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's departure reached northern Cap-Haitien.

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.

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.

Justice takes charge

Three hours after Aristide's departure, Supreme Court Justice Boniface Alexandre declared at a news conference that he was taking control of the government 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 but could face a legal obstacle: 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.

Haiti's political opposition on Sunday postponed a decision on a proposal for a new government offered by the Caribbean Community of nations and the Organization of American States. The plan calls for the government, the opposition and the international community to form a panel that would eventually lead to a new prime minister and elections.

Half the country was in the hands of the rebels, including former soldiers of the army that Aristide had disbanded.

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 this morning.

Another rebel commander, Winter Etienne, said the fighters would disarm once a new government is installed.

Aristide's second fall

It was the second time Aristide, a 50-year-old former slum pastor, has fled his country. In 1991 he was ousted just months after being elected president for the first time.

President Bill Clinton sent 20,000 troops to restore Aristide to power 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.

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