BBC Caribbean
March 7, 2004

Thousands march to celebrate Aristide's exit

Thousands marched through the streets of Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince on Sunday celebrating the departure of President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

The marchers who were watched by US and French troops also demanded that Mr. Aristide be arrested and put on trial.

The former Haitian leader fled to Africa one week ago on February 29 after bowing to international pressure and the threat of a bloody rebellion.

Reports said that more than 3,000 demonstrators gathered in the upscale suburb of Petionville and marched toward the National Palace.

Rebel leaders Guy Phillipe, Louis-Jodel Chamblain and Evans Paul also joined the march and were greeted with adulation and chants of praise.

The protesters were watched by U.S. Marines in machine gun-equipped vehicles, while French troops and Haitian National Police looked on as the protesters headed toward the Palace.

There were fears of clashes with rival groups, as pro-Aristide supporters were also preparing to march to the Palace.

Meanwhile, in the Central African Republic Mr Aristide insisted that he was being well-treated by his hosts.

This was after the former Haitian leader told the international media several days ago that he felt like a prisoner. He also accused the CAR government of conspiring with France to orchestrate what he called his 'political kidnapping'.

His comments drew sharp criticism from the CAR government which asked Mr Aristide to show some respect for the hospitality he was being shown as without their help, he "would be dead by now".

Mr Aristide's statement which was read by the CAR Foreign Minister Charles Wenezoui, said he and his family were well received by President Francois Bozize.

The United States has consistently denied Aritide's claims that he was kidnapped and forced into exile.

But the Caribbean Community, Caricom has called for an inquiry into Mr Aristide's departure from Haiti.

South Africa which is backing Caricom's call has been named as one of the countries where Mr Aristide might seek permanent refuge.

The Thabo Mbeki government has already stated its willingness to accommodate Mr Aristide, but have not yet received a request.