MIAMI — Rebellious Haitian soldiers seized President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince on Monday after shooting up his private home and causing numerous deaths and injuries during a daylong rampage through the capital.
Government sources said Aristide was taken to the airport to be deported to France along with six relatives and an aide, Associated Press reported. U.S. Ambassador Alvin Adams accompanied Aristide, the sources said.
The army commander, Brig. Gen. Raul Cedras, said in a broadcast Monday night that the military had taken control of the nation.
"Today, the armed forces find themselves obligated to assume the heavy responsibility to keep the ship of state afloat," Cedras said. "After seven months . . . of democratic experience, the country once again finds itself a prey to the horrors of uncertainty. With all Haitians . . . we will bring the ship to port."
Cedras was one of four officers in charge of security for the election that brought Aristide to power eight months ago as Haiti's first freely elected president. They were widely credited with keeping the election fair and honest.
One of Aristide's first priorities was to reform the country's armed forces. He replaced senior officers with younger men, including Cedras, 42, who was named provisional commander in chief of the army in July.
Diplomatic sources said Cedras and two colonels were circulating a statement declaring themselves the head of a new military junta, Reuters news agency reported. The other junta members were identified as Col. Henri Robert Marc Charles, a former military attache in Washington, and Col. Alix Silva, the commander of a military training center.
The military uprising apparently began Sunday night when soldiers at two bases mutinied, then gathered momentum after the attack on Aristide's house early Monday.
Rebels shot at the president's entourage as it headed for the National Palace and later captured Aristide when they took over the palace.
Reuters news agency quoted an unidentified source as saying of the rebels and Aristide, "They wanted to lynch him, but they took him to general headquarters instead."
Sources at the city's general hospital said at least 26 people were killed and 200 wounded by the gunfire, according to independent Radio Cacique. Only one of Port-au-Prince's dozen radio stations, the Roman Catholic station Radio Soleil, continued broadcasting news after armed attacks on some of them.
One of Haiti's leading politicians, Protestant minister Sylvio Claude, was killed and his body set on fire by a mob in the southern provincial town of Cayes on Sunday night, according to an AP report. Claude, 57, had been an outspoken opponent of the Duvaliers, who had imprisoned him. More recently, Claude had criticized Aristide. He had run twice for the presidency.
Aristide, 38, a fiery Roman Catholic ghetto priest, became the first Haitian leader in history to reach office through free, fair elections that were overseen last January by the United Nations and other international groups. He was inaugurated in February with such overwhelming public support that the Haitian military and other opposition groups were fearful of mob vengeance if they tried to stand in his way.
According to reports from Haiti, the slight, bespectacled president was unhurt by the gunfire at his private home. He preferred his simple concrete-block, suburban house with its security fence to the ornate downtown palace from which Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) ruled for three decades.
After the attack, loyal troops escorted him to the fortress-like National Palace in an armored car, where it was thought he would be safer. He was accompanied by Jean-Rafael Dufour, France's ambassador to Haiti, radio reports said.
Although the convoy came under fire from rebellious troops along the way, it reached the palace, and for a time Aristide appeared to be in control and the streets seemed to be calming.
But rebel troops stormed the palace at about 5:30 p.m., killing one of Aristide's loyal army officers. They arrested the president and his staff, the reports said.
The U.S. Embassy condemned the uprising as "outrageous," and the U.S. State Department urged Haiti's military "to respect the constitutional order." But it indicated that there were no plans to intervene militarily on Aristide's behalf.
Security Council members were summoned to the United Nations Monday night to discuss the crisis. Haiti's ambassador to the United Nations, Fritz Longchamp, asked for the meeting.
The Organization of American States demanded that Aristide be returned to office and said those who arrested him would be held accountable.
After residents of Miami's Little Haiti section heard of Aristide's seizure, protests broke out on city streets. Demonstrators burned an American flag, set a patrol car on fire and looted stores, police said.