Aristide accuses U.S. of coup d'état

U.S. officials deny a report that Washington forced out Haiti's president in a coup

Ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide said Monday the United States forced him to leave office in a "coup d'état."

"I was told that to avoid bloodshed I'd better leave. No one should force an elected president to move," Aristide said in an interview with CNN. He spoke from the Central African Republic, where he is in exile.

When asked about earlier allegations he had been kidnapped, Aristide said: "As I said, I called this coup d'état in a modern way, to have modern kidnapping."

"They were not Haitian forces. They were (unintelligible sound) and Americans and Haitians together, acting to surround the airport, my house, the palace," he said.

He said he was taken by plane and told he was headed for the Central African Republic 20 minutes before the flight landed.

In an earlier interview with The Associated Press, arranged by U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, Aristide alleged he had been kidnapped.

U.S Secretary of State Colin Powell called the allegations "baseless and absurd," saying Aristide asked for American assistance to leave Haiti.

"He came back to us and said it was his decision, based on what the security people were also telling him about the deteriorating situation, that he should leave," said Powell.

"It's nonsense, and conspiracy theories do nothing to help the Haitian people move forward to a better, more free, more prosperous future," said Scott McClellan, chief presidential spokesperson.

Randall Robinson, former president of a Washington-based foreign policy think-tank, told The Associated Press that Aristide telephoned him Monday to say that he was kidnapped at gunpoint by American soldiers in a U.S.-engineered coup.

Representative Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) told CNN that when he spoke with Aristide Monday morning, the former leader told him "that he was kidnapped."

But McClellan said Aristide's aides contacted the U.S. ambassador to Haiti on Saturday and asked if Aristide would be given protection by the United States if he resigned.

McClellan said Aristide's aides were told that the U.S. "would facilitate his departure. And we did."

He said the U.S. arranged for a plane to fly to Haiti to pick up Aristide and that he left on his own free will.

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell both also vehemently denied that Aristide had been forced out by the United States.

Prime Minister Paul Martin said he knew nothing of a coup.

"Canada does not have knowledge of what happened in those final hours. All we can go on is what [Aristide] said in his letter."

Martin said it was clear from the letter that Aristide was resigning because it "was the best way to prevent bloodshed and it was his decision."

The allegations come as rebel forces rolled into Port-au-Prince on Monday along with U.S., French and Canadian troops.

The multinational force began efforts to try to restore order in the Haitian capital, following the ouster of Aristide.

Celebrating Aristide's resignation as president a day earlier, thousands of people danced and cheered as they welcomed rebels to Port-au-Prince and the surrounding suburbs.

Rebel leader Guy Philippe later met with members of the political coalition who had opposed Aristide.

The Haitian capital had descended into disorder on Sunday night. People looted stores, gas stations and even police stations. Hundreds of prisoners were freed from prison, and there was widespread shooting.

But looting and violence subsided on Monday as soldiers moved into the capital.

French troops arrived in Port-au-Prince Monday morning, joining U.S. marines and Canadian soldiers as part of a multinational force approved by the United Nations Security Council.

Troops spread out from Port-au-Prince's airport to protect key sites.

Canada has about 50 soldiers in Port-au-Prince and Ottawa is deciding how many more to send.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States will have a limited military presence, with 400 marines expected by Monday afternoon.

But Powell said the U.S. forces "will have a lead role" initially in restoring order to Haiti in the wake of the three-week old rebellion that killed at least 80 people.

Aristide arrived in the Central African Republic early on Monday after leaving Haiti by plane, accompanied by his wife and three other people.

It is not known whether the former Haitian leader will stay there. He's rumoured to be interested in going to South Africa.