U.S. Officials: Aristide Wasn't Taken by Force

Hundreds of residents were dancing in the streets and cheering the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (search) on Monday as U.S. Marines and French troops secured key sites.

Aristide, who fled Haiti under pressure from the rebels, the political opposition, the United States and France, arrived Monday in the Central African Republic (search) for "a few days," according to the country's state radio.

Aristide said in a short broadcast on the African station that those who overthrew him had "cut down the tree of peace," but "it will grow again." Aristide has returned to rule Haiti once before, in 1994, when U.S. forces took him back to Port-au-Prince. He had been ousted in a military coup three years earlier.

Randall Robinson, former president of TransAfrica monitoring group (search), said the former Haitian president told him in a phone call that he was abducted from Haiti by U.S. troops who accompanied him on a flight to the Central African Republic.

"He asked that I tell the word that it is a coup," Robinson said in a statement. "That he was abducted by American soldiers and put aboard a plan, told to make no phone calls to anyone, put aboard a plane with his sister's husband and his wife."

In an interview with the Associated Press, Robinson said Aristide told him "about 20 American soldiers in full battle gear with automatic weapons came to the residence and did not allow him or his wife or his sister's husband to make any phone calls, took them to the airport, at gunpoint, put them on a plane, all 20 of the soldiers boarded ..."

Secretary of State Colin Powell called those allegations "absolutely baseless, absurd."

"He was not kidnapped," Powell told a news conference.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld added that "the idea that someone was abducted is inconsistent with everything I saw."

South Africa's Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said it had not received a formal request to host the 50-year-old former slum priest.

Aristide sent his two daughters to New York last week.

An American-based security firm guarding Aristide was told by the United States that the president could not count on Washington's protection in the event of rebel hostilities at the palace, a Bush administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The crisis has been brewing since Aristide's party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000, prompting international donors to freeze millions of dollars in aid.

Opponents also accused Aristide of breaking promises to help the poor, allowing corruption fueled by drug trafficking and masterminding attacks on opponents by armed gangs -- charges the president denied.

Though not aligned with rebels, the political opposition had pushed for Aristide to leave for the good of Haiti's 8 million people, angered by poverty, corruption and crime. The uprising killed at least 100 people.

Three hours after Aristide's departure, Alexandre said he was taking control of the government as called for by the constitution.

"The task will not be an easy one," he said. "Haiti is in crisis. ... It needs all its sons and daughters. No one should take justice into their own hands."

Alexandre has a reputation for honesty but could face a legal obstacle: The Haitian constitution calls for parliament to approve him as leader, and it has not met since early this year, when lawmakers' terms expired.