View Full Version : Aristide Flees Haiti; Leadership Unclear

02-29-2004, 10:00 AM
Feb 29, 2004

By PAISLEY DODDS and IAN JAMES (http://apnews.myway.com/article/20040229/D810UKV80.html)


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled Haiti on Sunday, bowing to pressure from a rebellion at home and governments abroad, U.S. and Haitian officials said.

Hundreds of angry Aristide militants armed with old rifles and pistols converged on the National Palace, the presidential seat in Port-au-Prince. It was not immediately clear who was in charge, but Aristide's prime minister Yvan Neptune called a news conference early Sunday.

There were reports Aristide signed a letter of resignation before he left, which would open the way for Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre to take power. Such a move would require approval by the Haitian parliament, which has not had power since early this year after the terms of most legislators expired.

In Cap-Haitien, the northern port that has become a base for the rebels, crowds danced and sang in the street and a rebel commander said his fighters were ready to disarm once a new government was in place.

"Aristide's gone! Aristide's out!" rebel fighters in Cap-Haitien yelled with glee, hugging each other.

Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president in 200 years of independence, left as the rebels came were 25 miles from the capital and threatening to attack unless he resigned.

A senior U.S. official said Aristide flew from Haiti on a corporate jet that left at 6:45 a.m. He was accompanied by members of his security detail but his destination was unclear. An Associated Press reporter saw an unmarked white jet take off from Port-au-Prince's airport about that time Sunday morning.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he could provide no other details because Aristide had not yet arrived at his destination.

Aristide's Cabinet minister and close adviser Leslie Voltaire said Aristide was on board along with his palace security chief Frantz Gabriel.

The rebels launched the rebellion on Feb. 5 from Gonaives, 70 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince. More than 100 people were killed.

Voltaire said Aristide was flying to the Dominican Republic and would seek asylum in Morocco, Taiwan or Panama.

In Morocco, a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official said Aristide is not heading for the North African kingdom.

Taiwanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Richard Shih also said they had not received "any message or any request from the Haitian government," although he would not rule out the possibility of accepting Haiti's president.

Rebel commander Winter Etienne said the fighters - a motley group led by a former army death squad commander, one of Aristide's provincial police chiefs and a former pro-Aristide street gang - said "We're going to put our weapons down when we've got a new government."

As he spoke, rebels rode through Cap-Haitien in trucks, waving at hundreds of people who took to the streets in celebration, dancing and singing.

But Etienne indicated it might not be over: "We will go to Gonaives, and then we will pass to St. Marc," he told The Associated Press.

St. Marc is a government held town north of Port-au-Prince where Aristide militants have been terrorizing opponents, torching homes and executing alleged rebel sympathizers.

One diplomatic source in Port-au-Prince said Aristide signed a letter of resignation before he left. His term did not expire until February 2006.

That would open the way for a U.S.-led plan to install Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre, the president's constitutional successor, to head a transitional government. Alexandre is honored for his honesty in a judicial system notorious for corruption. He could not immediately be reached.

The crisis has been brewing since Aristide's 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 priest 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 handpicked his successor, Rene Preval, but was considered the power behind the scenes until he won a second term in 2000, in presidential elections marred by a low turnout and an opposition boycott.

France, Haiti's former colonizer, and the United States had suggested he step down for the good of his Caribbean nation of 8 million people.

It was not clear where Aristide's wife, Mildred Trouillot Aristide, was. The couple had sent their two daughters to Trouillot's mother in New York City last week.

A convoy of cars later drove onto the tarmac alongside a second jet, but it was not clear who was on the plane. Canadian military police were at the airport, but they refused to say who was on the planes.


02-29-2004, 11:44 PM
51st state anyone?