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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 21:26 GMT
Exiled Aristide flies to Africa
Jean-Bertrand Aristide
Mr Aristide has yet to find a final destination
Haiti's deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has arrived in the Central African Republic after fleeing his crisis-hit country on Sunday.

But it remains unclear if he will stay there or seek asylum in a third nation.

A CAR official was reported to have said Mr Aristide would stay only for a few days before going to South Africa.

The White House and US Defence Department have denied claims that President Aristide was kidnapped and removed from power by US troops.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell described the kidnapping claims as "absurd".

It's nonsense and conspiracy theories do nothing to help the Haitian people move forward to a better more free, more prosperous future
US presidential spokesman Scott McClellan
"He was not kidnapped, we did not force him onto the airplane, he went onto the airplane willingly and that's the truth," Mr Powell told a news conference.

He said Mr Aristide wrote a letter of resignation and only then did the US bring a plane to help him leave the country.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan also denied that the president was forced to leave.

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

An African-American activist, Randall Robinson, told CNN he had spoken with Mr Aristide by telephone and that the ousted leader said he had been kidnapped and forced to resign.

US Congresswoman Maxine Waters said she had spoken directly with Mrs Aristide, who backed up these claims.

Mrs Waters said an embassy official told Mr Aristide that he "had to go now - that if he didn't go he would be killed and a lot of Haitians would be killed".

Special relationship

Reports have suggested Mr Aristide's final destination will be South Africa.

Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad had said there had been no formal request for asylum, but that it had no opposition "in principle".

President Thabo Mbeki was the only head of state to attend Haiti's 200th anniversary celebrations in January.

A US state department official said South Africa was helping find a destination for the former Haitian leader.

The idea has been given muted support in South Africa, where Mr Mbeki has been criticised for going too softly on Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe.

"If it's going to help things giving even a nasty man political asylum in a country so that solutions may be found to problems in his country, you do it," said foreign affairs committee chief Pallo Jordan.

"You might hold your nose while you do it, but you do it nonetheless."

Civilian jet

The Central American states of Panama and Costa Rica have also offered to take him.

We have to look at Haiti with compassion
Panama's President Mireya Moscoso

Mr Aristide arrived in the CAR early on Monday with his wife and three others.

The communications minister of the CAR, one of the least developed countries on the continent, said he hoped the international community would help cover the costs of Mr Aristide's stay, the Associated Press reported.

Mr Aristide left Haiti in a civilian jet on Sunday.

The plane landed on the Caribbean island of Antigua, where it refuelled and took on supplies for about an hour before heading across the Atlantic Ocean.

Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso first revealed that Mr Aristide was seeking asylum "in an African country", even as she said her country would accept him.

"We have to look at Haiti with compassion, and if Panama could help in a given moment we would think about it," she said.


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