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Marines land to suppress anarchy in Haiti


PORT-AU-PRINCE - United States Marines flew into the chaotic Haitian capital yesterday after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled into exile, driven out by a bloody revolt and foreign pressure.

Minutes after the United Nations Security Council authorised the deployment of a multinational force, the first of several hundred Marines ordered in by US President George W. Bush arrived to prevent armed insurgents from seizing power.

"This is the beginning of a new chapter in the country's history," Bush said.

Aristide said he resigned to avert "a bloodbath".

He was escorted to the airport by heavily armed US guards and flew off at dawn to the neighbouring Dominican Republic and then to the eastern Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda.

His Haitian civilian plane later flew him and his wife to the Central African Republic. An official said he would spend a few days there before going into exile in South Africa.

As word of his departure spread, mayhem gripped the ramshackle capital of two million - a quarter of Haiti's impoverished population.

A band of about 50 rebels swooped into Port-au-Prince as armed bands of Aristide's feared supporters, or "chimeres", roamed the city in trucks, armed with shotguns and other weapons.

Police guarding Haiti's main prison near the National Palace ran away.

About 2000 inmates including murderers and other hard-core criminals melted into the streets.

Looters ransacked stores, the first rebels to arrive went on a wild ride around town in trucks, shot it out with an unseen gunman and hugged the people they came to liberate.

Bush ordered the deployment of US Marines to serve as the vanguard of a multinational security force.

It was the third major deployment of US troops to Haiti in the past century, the last of which occurred just 10 years ago when President Bill Clinton sent 20,000 Marines to restore Aristide to power after he had been ousted in a coup.

More than 120 French troops were due to arrive today, and Canada, which has about 50 troops in the country, said it could send in another 100 at short notice.

Brazil is also expected to contribute to the force, which was given an initial mandate of three months.

Aristide, 50, whose battle to end decades of dictatorship once made him a hero of Haitian democracy, had faced accusations of corruption and political violence.

He left after an uprising that began 24 days ago crept close to Port-au-Prince.

The US, which with former colonial power France had called on him to quit to help to bring an end to the crisis, urged the rebels to lay down their arms.

The rebels promised to co-operate and stop fighting.

Guy Philippe, an ex-police chief accused of fomenting earlier coup attempts who joined the revolt, told CNN he welcomed the Marines.

"We are waiting for them. We need them. They will have full co-operation," he said.

The rebellion, which capped months of simmering political tensions, began on February 5 in the western city of Gonaives, led by a street gang that once supported Aristide.

It spread over the north of the country and killed more than 70 people, including at least five men found dead in Port-au-Prince yesterday.

Opponents of the President hunted down his dreaded "chimeres" - street toughs armed by Aristide to enforce his will in the country's sprawling slums.

The departure of Aristide, who had been insisting that Haiti's 32 coups in 200 years of independence would not culminate in his own ouster and that he would serve out his second term until 2006, was arranged by US officials.

Within hours, Haitian Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre was named to replace him as laid out in the constitution.

The Caribbean Community, which has been at the forefront of efforts to broker peace, deplored Aristide's "removal" and questioned the constitutionality of his replacement by Alexandre because there was no Parliament to approve it.

In a statement read by Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, Aristide said: "The constitution should not sink in the blood of the Haitian people.

"That's why, if ... my resignation is the decision that can avoid a bloodbath, I consent to leave with hope there will be life, not death."


* Jean-Bertrand Aristide signs his letter of resignation in front of witnesses.

* Half an hour later, Aristide leaves Haiti for the Central African Republic. An official there says he will take up exile in South Africa.

* Violence erupts in the capital, Port-au-Prince, less than two hours after Aristide's departure.

* Supreme Court chief justice Boniface Alexandre assumes interim power.

* Prime Minister Yvonne Neptune reads a statement from Aristide saying he left to avoid "a bloodbath".

* Rebel leader Guy Philippe says his fighters are ready to lay down their arms and would welcome an international force.

* US President George W. Bush says he has ordered the deployment of US Marines in Haiti and calls for an end to violence.

* France sends a 200-strong military detachment and about 100 gendarmes to protect French citizens.

* At least five bodies are seen in the Lalue area near the centre of the capital and six in the Carrefour neighbourhood.

* A detachment of 200 US Marines leave Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

* The United Nations Security Council approves an international peace force for Haiti as the first troops arrive.



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