Aristide Resigns As President of Haiti

By PAISLEY DODDS and IAN JAMES, Associated  Press Writers

Feb 29, 04:  PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned and fled the  country Sunday, bowing to pressure from a bloody rebellion at home and  governments abroad. Gunfire rang out through the capital and black smoke  billowed from the city center.

A jet carrying Aristide landed in Antigua for  refueling and heads to South Africa, local radio stations report.

Aristide’s prime minister, Yvon Neptune, said at  a press conference that the ex-leader resigned to “prevent bloodshed.”

A senior U.S. defense official said Aristide had  submitted a formal resignation before leaving Haiti. That would result in a  constitutional transfer of power to Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface  Alexandre, pending elections, the official said.

Faced with an armed rebellion and intense  pressure from the United States and France, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand  Aristide on Sunday left his troubled Caribbean nation, its future uncertain as  armed gangs vie for power on the streets.

“Aristide has left,” a senior Haitian security  official said. “The administration believes Aristide made the right decision for  the Haitian people by resigning,” a senior U.S. official said in Washington.

Aristide, whose role in a popular uprising that  ended decades of dictatorship in the 1980s once made him a hero of Haitian  democracy, left the impoverished nation 24 days after the start of a bloody  uprising by armed rebels determined to unseat him.

The Haitian consul in neighboring Dominican  Republic said Aristide was traveling to Morocco on Sunday, but it was not clear  whether he was making a stop somewhere on the way.

It was unclear who was in charge in Haiti. A U.S.  official in Washington said Aristide’s departure had averted a bloodbath.

“We managed to stave that off. But we are heading  into another dangerous period because any vacuum in Haiti could also be  dangerous,” he said.

Aristide’s departure came under pressure from the  United States, France and other nations for him to resign and end the revolt,  which has killed nearly 70 people.

Rumors of Aristide’s departure had spread through  the Haitian capital on Saturday, Port-au-Prince, sparked by reports of a  late-night meeting at the National Palace involving Aristide, U.S. ambassador  James Foley and other officials.

Rebel soldiers in Cap Haitien, the rebel  stronghold in the north overrun last weekend, began celebrating in the streets  even before Aristide’s departure was confirmed.

Two large fires burned fiercely in  Port-au-Prince, one not far from the international airport.

The capital had been convulsed by looting and  violence this week as the armed rebels, led by a former police chief and a  former death squad leader, advanced on the city.

Aristide’s departure prompted celebrations among  his political foes, who did not back the rebels but who accused the president of  human rights violations and corruption.

“It’s great for the country. That’s what we’ve  been waiting for,” said Charles Baker, a leader of a coalition of opposition  civic and political groups. “Now we’re partying. Then we’ll get back to work.”

Aristide, a former parish priest, first took  office in 1991 but was ousted in a coup months later. He was restored to power  by a U.S. invasion in 1994, and then re-elected in 2000 for a second term.

As late as Thursday, Aristide declared he would  not be forced from office, insisting that would even further undermine the  country’s flimsy democracy. “We had 32 coup d’etats. It’s enough,” he told CNN.

Aristide, a slight and studious-looking  50-year-old, was a hero of Haiti’s legions of poor when he emerged from  delivering sermons denouncing oppression to become the country’s first  democratically elected president after years of brutal dictatorships.

Haiti, which gained independent from France in  1804, shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, it is the  poorest country in the Americas and most of its people live on less than a  dollar a day.

Source: MyCaribbeanNews.com

This situation in Haiti is heartbreaking….

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