An African-American activist said on Monday Aristide told him on the phone he was kidnapped at gunpoint by American soldiers and ousted in a US coup d'etat.

Aristide said he was being held prisoner at the Renaissance Palace in Bangui, Central African Republic, activist Randall Robinson told CNN.

"President Aristide called me on a cell phone that had been smuggled into his room. He's being held in a small room in Bangui, Central African Republic, with his wife and sister's husband," Robinson said.

"The president said to me that he had been abducted from his
home by about 20 American soldiers in full battle gear with
automatic weapons and put on a plane," Robinson said.
  
US Congresswoman Maxine Waters also reported she had spoken directly with Aristide, and that he claimed he was kidnapped and the coup was completed by the Americans.

Denials

With US military forces already on the ground in the Caribbean nation and more on the way, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld vehemently denied Aristide had been forced out by the United States.

US marines discuss setting up at
Haiti's International Airport

US Secretary of State Colin Powell also forcefully denied the allegations, saying Aristide boarded the plane willingly.

US chief presidential spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Aristide left on his own free will. "We took steps to protect Mr. Aristide and his family so they would not be harmed as they departed Haiti," he said.

Rumsfeld, at a Pentagon news conference, said he was involved in the diplomatic flurry preceding Aristide's departure, and "the idea that someone was abducted is inconsistent with everything I saw."

Uproar

"I don't believe that's true, that he's claiming that," Rumsfeld said. "I would be absolutely amazed if that were the case."

McClellan said Aristide's aides had contacted the US ambassador to Haiti on Saturday and asked if Aristide would be given protection by the United States if he resigned.

The ambassador consulted with Washington, then called Aristide's aides and told them if Aristide decided to resign, the United States "would facilitate his departure," said McClellan.
 
He said the United States arranged for a plane to fly to Haiti to pick up Aristide. The aircraft arrived about 4:30am, said McClellan. Aristide went to the airport in the company of his own personal security guards, said the spokesman.

Powell said flatly, "He was not kidnapped," and criticised US congressmen for saying Aristide had been kidnapped without checking with the Bush administration first to see what the story was. 

The US Secretary of State said Aristide wrote a letter of resignation and only then did Washington bring an airplane to help him leave the country.