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Aristide Leaves Haiti - 2004-03-02


President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has left Haiti, where he faced a three-week-old armed rebellion and increasing international pressure to step down.

In the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, witnesses and reporters say two small planes carrying Mr. Aristide and his entourage took off just before dawn today (Sunday).

Sources close to Mr. Aristide say he is going to neighboring Dominican Republic, intending to seek asylum in either Morocco, Taiwan or Panama.

The Associated Press, which first broke the story about Mr. Aristide's departure, quotes a diplomatic source as saying he signed a letter of resignation before leaving the country.

Senior U.S. officials quickly welcomed the news. The embattled Haitian leader stepped down under growing pressure from the United States, France and several other nations.

Mr. Aristide also faced an imminent attack from Haiti's rebels, who had assembled just kilometers outside of Port-au-Prince vowing to remove the Haitian leader if he did not resign. The rebels control most of the country, outside of the capital.

But on Saturday, Mr. Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, said his resignation was "out of the question." He was the Caribbean island nation's first freely elected president in 200 years of independence.

The crisis in Haiti has been brewing since Mr. Aristide's party swept legislative elections in 2000 that were widely dismissed as flawed, and international donors froze millions of dollars in aid.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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