Sunday, February 29, 2004

# Posted 7:52 AM by Patrick Belton  

The Bush administration said it welcomed Aristide's departure and said it was in the best interests of Haiti. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Aristide left at about 6:45 a.m. EST, accompanied by members of his security detail.

[One of his advisors] said Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president in 200 years of independence, was flying to the Dominican Republic and would seek asylum in Morocco, Taiwan or Panama.

Aristide left as fighters in a popular rebellion that erupted on Feb. 5 came within 25 miles of Port-au-Prince, the capital, and threatened to attack unless he resigned.
See also this piece from earlier this morning, on the administration's decision yesterday to increase its pressure on Aristide to leave, to leave open chances for a peaceful resolution in his absence:
Earlier in the day, senior administration officials said the United States did not want to seem to be pushing an elected leader out of office. But after a meeting of Mr. Bush's national security advisers on Saturday morning — run by teleconference from Camp David by Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser — the president concluded that Washington's strong hints to Mr. Aristide that he needed to resign must be stepped up to a strong shove.

During the meeting, officials said, Mr. Bush's advisers concluded that the rebel forces holding in position outside the city were unlikely to stay there for long. "If they go in and Aristide is still sitting there, it's not going to be pretty," a senior official said Saturday evening. "So the conclusion was that the only way to get to a political solution was to exert more pressure, an evolution of what we've been doing all week."
Rebel leader Guy Philippe, who had earlier boasted that he would be in Port-au-Prince today to mark his 36th birthday, had reportedly slowed his advance into the capital city in response to a request from Washington.

So who's left to pick up the pieces of power in Port-au-Prince? The Democratic Platform opposition coalition had been led by senior socialist member Micha Gaillard, Christian Democrat Marie-Denise Claude, and Paul Denis of the left-wing Organisation for the People's Struggle. Other key figures in the political opposition include Lionel Etienne, head of the Franco-Haitian Chamber of Commerce; and industrialist Edouard Peaultre. (See AFP). The Platform Democratique, in turn, includes the Convergence Democratique (a wide-ranging collection of political and civil society groups) and the Group of 184 (which represents Haiti’s business community; website). It's not yet clear whether a restoration in order in Haiti will now follow along the lines of the French peace plan, in which a multinational police force would deploy to Haiti along with relief aid, human rights observers, and a U.N. representative; a government of national unity would be formed among political parties; and new presidential elections would take place before the summer. (The alternative, CARICOM, plan had called for Aristide to remain in power heading a government of national unity.) And the State Department has already indicated that a multinational force will be sent to the Haiti soon.
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