By Daniel Balint-KurtiAssociated Press
March 8, 2004
Insisting he's still Haiti's president, a defiant Jean-Bertrand Aristide appeared in public for the first time in exile Monday, 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.
Aristide spoke 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 fled his homeland Feb. 29 on a plane arranged by the U.S. government. He is now housed in a presidential palace apartment.
Until Monday'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 â€” denied by Washington â€” 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 U.S. ambassador to Haiti that he would be taken to a press conference in Port-au-Prince on Feb. 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 Aristide was ousted and U.S. and French peacekeepers were deployed. Aristide described those who precipitated his fall as "terrorists, drug dealers." He cited rebel leader Guy Philippe, who last week declared himself the new chief of Haiti's military, which was disbanded by Aristide.
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. "I have never been a prisoner here," he said. "On the other hand, I was a prisoner ... in the plane where we spent 20 hours without knowing where we were going."
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.
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