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Rebels enter police headquarters in Haitian capital

Powell rejects claims U.S. waited too long

Haitians celebrate outside the presidential palace Monday.
Haitians celebrate outside the presidential palace Monday.

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Jean-Bertrand Aristide

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNN) -- Greeted by hundreds of cheering supporters, heavily armed Haitian rebels drove into Port-au-Prince on Monday, entering the headquarters of the national police, the stronghold of supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Word of the so-called victory caravan came as Bush administration officials strongly denied reports that Aristide had been kidnapped by U.S. soldiers and was being held against his will in the Central African Republic.

Aristide told CNN 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."

Earlier, several people, including two U.S. lawmakers, reported that Aristide told them by phone that he did not leave Haiti voluntarily, but was "abducted" by U.S. troops. The White House called those reports "complete nonsense" and said those claims did not help Haiti move forward. (Full story)

Crowds of supporters swelled, marching past the palace while cheering and chanting. The police headquarters is near the presidential palace where U.S. Marine peacekeepers are stationed. (Aristide's home looted)

The rebels -- who had opposed Aristide's presidency -- said they would not visit the palace. They reiterated rebel leader Guy Philippe's pledge to support interim President Boniface Alexandre and the nation's democratic process.

There was no sign of pro-Aristide forces who had fought the rebels until his resignation and departure for Africa on Sunday.

U.S., Canadian and French peacekeeping troops were fanning out in Port-au-Prince to secure important areas, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday he's pleased with the international community's quick response to the crisis.

"The looting and violence has gone down somewhat overnight," Powell said. "We'll have to see what daylight brings." (Scene)

A day after Aristide left the country, Haitians awoke Monday with a new interim president and with Aristide in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.

Speaking on the state-run radio in the African nation on Monday, Aristide said that opposition rebels who pushed for his ouster "chopped down the tree of peace, but it will grow again."

Powell rebuffs criticism

Meanwhile, Powell rejected criticism that accused the Bush administration of waiting too long to take action in Haiti. He expressed hope for a peaceful and democratic future for the Caribbean nation.

The United States, Powell said, has "ways of talking to the various rebel leaders and [is] pleased that at least so far they've said they're not interested in violence any more and will put down their arms."

Aristide -- the first democratically elected president in Haiti's 200 years of independence -- left office after a bloody revolt by armed rebels spread from the north of the country and threatened a siege of Port-au-Prince. Aristide's current term as president was to last until 2006, but his political opponents claimed the election was fraudulent and demanded nothing less than his ouster.

In an effort to stabilize the capital, more than 200 Marines had been deployed to Port-au-Prince by Monday morning, and the first contingent of 50 French forces arrived shortly after 7 a.m. A small contingent of Canadian troops is already in the city.

An official welcomes Aristide to Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, Monday.
An official welcomes Aristide to Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, Monday.

A total of about 130 French troops are expected to arrive in Haiti on Monday "to ensure the security of French citizens," a spokesman for President Jacques Chirac said. Another 150 French soldiers will deploy from Martinique in the next few days, French officials said.

On Sunday, with armed gangs roaming Port-au-Prince, President Bush ordered the Marines deployed to the country and said, "I urge the people of Haiti to reject violence and give this break from the past a chance to work and the United States is prepared to help."

Shortly after the Marines landed in Haiti later in the day, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to send a multinational peacekeeping force to Haiti for up to three months.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, Elise Labott, Barbara Starr, Lucia Newman, Richard Roth and Ingrid Arnesen contributed to this report.

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