Aristide calls for 'peaceful resistance'
Posted By: News
Date: 9, March 04, at 9:05 a.m.
BANGUI, Central Afri-can Republic: Insisting he's still Haiti's president, a defiant Jean-Bertrand Aristide appeared in public for the first time in exile yesterday, calling on supporters to wage a peaceful resistance against rebels he derided as "drug dealers" and "terrorists." Looking composed, Aristide also spoke out against the United States, reiterating allegations denied by Washington that America helped remove him from power by force. "I am the democratically elected president and I remain so. I plead for the restoration of democracy in Haiti," Aristide told reporters in Bangui, seated on an armchair next to his wife Mildred at the Foreign Ministry. "We appeal for a peaceful resistance," he added, as several dozen journalists and one Central African Republic soldier toting an assault rifle looked on.
In Washington, State Depart-ment spokesman Richard Boucher said Aristide resigned February 29 and turned power over to his constitutional successor. "If Mr Aristide really wants to serve his country, he really has to, we think, let his nation get on with the future and not try to stir up the past again," Boucher said. Aristide spoke with reporters despite a pointed, public request by Foreign Minister Charles Wenezoui that he avoid talking about Haitian politics or unidentified "friendly countries." The ousted leader has been in Bangui since March 1. As rebels advanced on the capital, Port-au-Prince, Aristide left his homeland February 29 on a plane arranged by the US government. He is now housed in a presidential palace apartment. Until yesterday's press conference, the government had refused lawyers and journalists access to Aristide and his wife, saying that comments made directly and indirectly by Aristide to foreign media had created diplomatic problems.
Most problematic were allegations — denied by Washington — that the United States forced Aristide from power. "It was in fact a political kidnapping. This political kidnapping unfortunately opened the road to an occupation," Aristide said. He said he was removed from Haiti "not only by force, but they used lies also." Aristide said he had been told by the US ambassador to Haiti that he would be taken to a press conference in Port-au-Prince on February 29, but was instead driven to the airport. "They put me in a car and I found myself at the airport. The airport was under the control of the Americans," he said. There was no mention of the violence Sunday in Port-au-Prince in which six people were killed when shots broke out during a protest demanding that Aristide be prosecuted. It was the worst violence since Aris-tide was ousted and US and French peacekeepers were deploy-ed. Asked about his plans, Aristide was ambiguous. "Where I'm going will depend on the circumstances. For the moment, I am here, and I am very well," he said.
Aristide said he had been "well looked after" by his Central African hosts, backtracking on his lawyers' statements that he was "a prisoner" in Bangui. The United States, France and the West African nation of Gabon arranged Aristide's flight to Bangui, Central African Republic authorities said, although it remains unclear why the country was chosen. It remains unclear if Aristide will stay.
Aristide restates claim to be Haiti's true leader
Haiti installs interim president
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti: Haiti's interim president took the reigns of his country's shattered government yesterday, as ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide restated his claim to be Haiti's true leader from his faraway African asylum and his supporters shouted demands for his return at the gates of the National Palace. "Aristide or death!" Aristide followers yelled, their voices carrying into the room where President Boniface Alexandre was installed at the presidential palace, who urged the chaotic country to remain calm.
"We are all brothers and sisters," said Alexandre, who has served as president for a week and was officially sworn in on Sunday. "We are all in the same boat, and if it sinks, it sinks with all of us." Military helicopters circled overhead and US Marines in armoured cars patrolled the streets outside the palace where Aristide's bereaved followers declared: "Like it or not, Aristide must come back!" "I am the democratically elected president and I remain so. I plead for the restoration of democracy," Aristide said from Bangui, the capital of another impoverished and coup-ridden state. "We appeal for a peaceful resistance," he added, saying his February 29 departure was a "political kidnapping (that) unfortunately opened the road to an occupation." The United States denies Aristide's charge that Washington forced him to step down. But the 15-nation Caribbean Community has called for an international investigation. US Marines and French Legionnaires began arriving the same day he left to form the vanguard of a UN force to restore peace in Haiti, where a month-long rebellion left more than 130 dead. Reprisal killings continue. A frenzy of looting that erupted the day before Aristide's flight and waned with the arrival of peacekeepers resurged Monday. Hundreds of people ransacked Port-au-Prince's industrial park, carrying away wood panelling, toilets, even a plastic Mickey Mouse. One looter wore the top part of a horse costume on his head as he made off with a mirror. The looting took place less than a kilometre (half a mile) from the international airport where US Marines have set up base.
Inside the palace, Alexandre, the country's Supreme Court Chief Justice, urged people "to keep calm. No one has the right to do justice by themselves." Yesterday's pro-Aristide protest was mostly peaceful, a sharp contrast to the massive anti-Aristide protest Sunday on which gunmen opened fire, killing at least five people, including a foreign journalist. A sixth victim died of wounds overnight, doctors at Canape Vert Hospital said.
US Marines said they shot one gunman at Sunday's demonstration, raising the toll to seven. "He had a gun and he was shooting at Marines," Col Charles Gurganus told reporters Monday. But the man's body was not recovered and his identity was not known. The violence was the worst bloodshed since Aristide fled. It prompted the first armed action by the Marines and led both opponents and supporters of Aristide to threaten their own armed action, damaging efforts to reach a frail peace. Chief rebel leader Guy Philippe said Sunday's attack never would have happened if his men had not been asked to lay down their arms.
He warned Monday that "I will reunite my men and take up arms" if the peacekeepers do not disarm militant Aristide loyalists blamed for Sunday's attack. Ignoring Aristide's claims to Haiti's leadership, a recently appointed seven-member "Council of Sages" was interviewing three top candidates for prime minister on Monday, to replace Aristide appointee Yvon Neptune. The new premier, whom the council hoped to name on Tuesday, would form a transitional government from Aristide's Lavalas party and a disparate opposition coalition. Under a US-backed plan, that government would call new elections.
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