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CNN: Aristide says U.S. deposed him in 'coup d'etat'
(CNN) -- Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said Monday he was forced to leave Haiti in a "coup d'etat" by the United States.
"I was told that to avoid bloodshed I'd better leave," he said in an interview on CNN.
Transcript of interview:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide says he was forced to leave Haiti against his will by the United States, a claim dismissed by senior Bush administration officials as nonsense.
Aristide rejected Washington assertions that he resigned willingly, accusing American forces of forcing him out of office in what he called a "coup d'etat." He likened his "forced" departure to a kidnapping.
"They lied to me, and they may lie to you, too," he told CNN in a telephone interview on Monday from the Central African Republic, where he is in temporary exile. "No one should force an elected president to move in order to avoid bloodshed."
The Bush administration denied the charges.
"The allegations that somehow we kidnapped former President Aristide are absolutely baseless, absurd," said U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flatly denied Aristide had been forced to leave. White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the charge "complete nonsense."
But Aristide insisted: "I am telling you the truth."
Asked about allegations he was kidnapped, he said in a text of the interview released by CNN: "As I said, I called this coup d'etat in a modern way, to have modern kidnapping."
He said he was not taken away by Haitian forces, but rather by "Americans and Haitians together." He said they surrounded "the airport, my house, the palace," forcing him to leave.
He said he then spent 20 hours in an American plane "not knowing where we were going" until just 20 minutes before landing in the Central African Republic.
His American wife, he said, was told not to look through the windows. "You can't imagine this kind of terrible situation," he said.
When read a copy of his resignation letter, Aristide alleged it was altered.
"That's not right. They took out the sentence where I said, 'If I am obliged to leave in order to avoid bloodshed.' They took that off the document. That's why they are lying to you by giving to you a false document," Aristide said.
"These people lie," he added.
TAKEN BY FORCE?
Aristide's charges were also conveyed by phone to sympathetic U.S. lawmakers who have accused the Bush administration of encouraging a rebel advance in Haiti that led to the ouster of a democratically elected government.
"He was taken by force from his residence in the middle of the night, forced on to a plane, and taken away without being told where he was going. He was kidnapped. There's no question about it," Randall Robinson, the former head of the black lobbying group TransAfrica, told the "Democracy Now!" U.S. public radio program. "The president asked me to tell the world that it is a coup, that they have been kidnapped, that they have been abducted."
"He did not resign. He said he was forced out," Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California, also told "Democracy Now!". "He said it over and over again, that he was kidnapped, that the coup was completed by the Americans, that they forced him out."
But Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat and, like Waters, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said after talking by telephone with Aristide that interpreting his allegations of "kidnapping" was "subjective."
"They strongly suggested that he get out of town. The military helped him make the decision," Rangel told reporters as a Congressional Black Caucus delegation met in New York with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss Haiti.
"President Aristide feels that it was a coup, that he felt he was kidnapped, that he was told by the United States authority that they could no longer protect his life," he said.
While there had been reports Aristide left Haiti in handcuffs, Aristide denied this, Rangel said. "He said he was not in handcuffs. He felt like he was in handcuffs."
Powell said U.S. authorities did not force Aristide onto the leased plane, that he went willingly and was not kidnapped. He expressed irritation at members of Congress claiming otherwise.