Venezuelan president offers Aristide refuge


VENEZUALA: Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has offered refuge to ousted Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide, saying he still recognized him as the legitimate president of the Caribbean state.

"We don't recognize the new government of Haiti. The president of Haiti is called Jean-Bertrand Aristide . . . Venezuela's doors are open to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide," Mr Chavez said in a speech in east Venezuela.

Earlier, in Haiti, US Marines raided one of Port-au-Prince's most dangerous slums in a crackdown on gunmen firing potshots at US forces in troubled Haiti, where the interim prime minister was set to pick a new Cabinet.

In Washington, the White House blasted Jamaica's decision to allow ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to visit - a move that has infuriated Haiti's new government because of its potential to stir up violence.

Mr Aristide, who returned to the Caribbean on Monday after leaving Haiti for exile in Africa on February 29th, was under heavy guard by Jamaican soldiers at a country house northeast of the capital, Kingston.

Mr Aristide's stay in Jamaica has enraged the new Haitian government, which fears the former slum priest's presence 115 miles from Haiti's shores might fuel violence among slum dwellers, many of whom see Mr Aristide as a champion of the poor who was kidnapped in a US-backed coup.

One day after suffering their first casualty in Haiti, a column of 120 US Marines swept through the Belair slum - an Mr Aristide stronghold - on foot and in armoured vehicles mounted with machine guns.

US forces have fought half a dozen battles with Mr Aristide loyalists - killing six people - since they landed hours after Aristide left the country. - (Reuters)