Aristide accuses US of 'staging coup'

Haiti's deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide yesterday accused Washington of staging a coup against him and transporting him to the Central African Republic in conditions he likened to being kidnapped and thrown into jail.

In phone calls to African-American activists, Mr Aristide said he had not resigned, as was initially reported, but was hustled out of the country at gunpoint, under military escort. "He asked that I tell the world that it is a coup, that he was abducted by American soldiers and put aboard a plane," said Randall Robinson of the TransAfrica forum. In Port-au-Prince, there were rumours Mr Aristide had been seen in handcuffs at the airport after being arrested by agents of the Drugs Enforcement Administration.

President Bush's spokesman dismissed the allegations. "Conspiracy theories do nothing to help the Haitian people. We took steps to protect Mr Aristide and his family so they would not be harmed as they departed Haiti." Buoyed by the arrival of US Marines and French troops, Haitians returned to the streets yesterday and celebrated the flight of their president, who may seek exile in South Africa.

Marines secured the airport, but had no plans to patrol the city. They are the vanguard of up to 2,000 troops who will serve in an international force of 5,000 authorised by the UN Security Council. Thousands cheered the two rebel leaders of the so-called National Liberation Army, Guy Philippe and Louis Jodel Chamblain.Haiti's interim leader, Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre, has put together a transition team of politicians with a view to forming a government of national unity.

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