Monday, March 1, 2004 Posted: 12:58 PM EST (1758 GMT)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNN) — Greeted by hundreds of cheering supporters, heavily armed Haitian rebels drove into Port-au-Prince on Monday, entering the headquarters of the national police, the stronghold of supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The headquarters is just down the street from the presidential palace where U.S. Marine peacekeepers are stationed. Crowds of supporters swelled, marching past the palace while cheering and chanting.
The rebels — who had opposed Aristide’s presidency — said they would not visit the palace. They reiterated rebel leader Guy Philippe’s pledge to support interim President Boniface Alexandre and the nation’s democratic process.
There was no sign of pro-Aristide forces who had fought against the rebels until his resignation and departure for Africa on Sunday.
U.S., Canadian and French peacekeeping troops were fanning out in Port-au-Prince to secure important areas, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday he’s pleased with the international community’s quick response to the crisis.
“The looting and violence has gone down somewhat overnight,” Powell said. “We’ll have to see what daylight brings.”
A day after Aristide left the country, Haitians awoke Monday with a new interim president and with Aristide in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.
Activist claims Aristide abducted
On Sunday, Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune announced that Aristide had resigned and had left the nation for an unknown destination. His address was followed by the installation of Alexandre, Haiti’s Supreme Court chief justice, as the president of a transitional government, as mandated by Haiti’s constitution.
On Monday, African-American activist Randall Robinson said Aristide had called him on a smuggled cell phone and told him that he did not leave office voluntarily. Robinson said Aristide told him he was “abducted” by U.S. soldiers in “full battle gear” early Sunday and was being held “incommunicado” in the Central African Republic.
The kidnapping accusation also was reported Monday by the office of Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, and Aristide’s attorney, Ira Kurzman. Waters’ office said she also had spoken with Aristide by phone and Kurzman said the story originated with groundskeepers and housekeepers at Aristide’s Haiti home.
“The State Department refused to put me in contact with my client,” Kurzman said. “I have found out today everything that was my worst nightmare. Today I have learned that the president of the Republic of Haiti was kidnapped by U.S. Marines, taken forcibly from his home, put on an American aircraft,” he said.
The White House issued a statement denying the claim. “I’m afraid that version of events is not based on fact,” the statement said. “The fact is, he resigned. He signed a letter of resignation.”
An Associated Press report filed early Monday from Central African Republic included no mention of U.S. troops accompanying Aristide and his wife during their arrival in Bangui. (Full story)
The communications minister of the Central African Republic said the abduction claim is “absolutely false.” The minister, Parfait Mbaye, said Aristide had been granted permission to land in the country after Aristide himself — as well as the U.S. and French governments — requested it.
Powell rebuffs criticism
Meanwhile, Powell rejected criticism that accused the Bush administration of waiting too long to take action in Haiti. He expressed hope for a peaceful and democratic future for the Caribbean nation.
The United States, Powell said, has “ways of talking to the various rebel leaders and [is] pleased that at least so far they’ve said they’re not interested in violence any more and will put down their arms.”
Aristide — the first democratically elected president in Haiti’s 200 years of independence — left office after a bloody revolt by armed rebels spread from the north of the country and threatened a siege of Port-au-Prince. Aristide’s current term as president was to last until 2006, but his political opponents claimed the election was fraudulent and demanded nothing less than his ouster.
In an effort to stabilize the capital, more than 200 Marines had been deployed to Port-au-Prince by Monday morning, and the first contingent of 50 French forces arrived shortly after 7 a.m. A small contingent of Canadian troops is already in the city.
A total of about 130 French troops are expected to arrive in Haiti on Monday “to ensure the security of French citizens,” a spokesman for President Jacques Chirac said. Another 150 French soldiers will deploy from Martinique in the next few days, French officials said.
On Sunday, with armed gangs roaming Port-au-Prince, President Bush ordered the Marines deployed to the country and said, “I urge the people of Haiti to reject violence and give this break from the past a chance to work and the United States is prepared to help.”
Shortly after the Marines landed in Haiti later in the day, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to send a multinational peacekeeping force to Haiti for up to three months.
CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux, Elise Labott, Barbara Starr, Lucia Newman, Richard Roth and Ingrid Arnesen contributed to this report.