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Jean-Bertrand Aristide arrives in Haiti after seven years in exile - by : Ben Fox and Trenton Daniel Associated Press

vendredi 18 mars 2011 par Administrator

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI—Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned home from seven years in exile to a celebrity welcome Friday, mobbed by close allies and journalists outside his private plane before being hustled into an airport VIP lounge as crowds of supporters rallied in the streets outside the terminal.

Aristide waved and blew a kiss to the small crowd at the runway, then began to deliver a speech in which he thanked his chanting, jubilant supporters. His wife, Mildred, wept.

“This man is our father, without him we haven’t lived,” said 31-year-old Sainvil Petit-Frere, one of about 3,000 cheering and chanting supporters in a quickly growing crowd. “This is the doctor who will heal the country.”

Twice elected president and twice deposed, Aristide is a popular but also polarizing figure. The former priest is an advocate of the poor, who make up the vast majority of Haiti’s more than 9 million people, and he was a leader of the movement that shook off a hated dictatorship. But he has many critics, who say he led a corrupt government, orchestrated violent attacks on foes and was as hungry for power as the leaders he denounced. He was last ousted in a violent 2004 rebellion that swept the country.

The U.S. and others fear his presence — despite his supporters’ insistence that he will not get involved in politics — will bring further disarray to a country struggling to emerge from a political crisis, a cholera epidemic and the devastation of the January 2010 earthquake.

Following his arrival, there was no sign of any unrest in the Haitian capital, where life went on as usual. Many Aristide supporters were simply joyous.

“We are going to party,” said 36-year-old mechanic Assey Woy, discussing the news of the ousted leader’s return with friends on a street corner downtown. “It will be like New Year’s Day.”

During a refuelling stopover early Friday in Dakar, Senegal, Aristide reiterated that he wants to work in education. His comments also reflected his awareness of his huge popularity and influence among Haiti’s majority poor.

“I think that the Haitian people are very happy,” Aristide told Democracy Now !, a U.S.-based news program. “Happy to know that we are on our way heading to Haiti. Happy to know that finally their dream will be fulfilled by things on the ground because they fought hard for democracy. They always wanted the return to happen and now it is happening.”

Energy spread through Aristide’s followers Thursday as word spread across Haiti that he was heading home. Some joined in a raucous, horn-blaring victory procession. Others decorated the courtyard of his foundation headquarters with Haitian flags and photos of the former president. One woman waited with a bouquet of flowers.

“We just want to see him,” said 30-year-old Lesley Jean-Giles.

But Aristide could sway the outcome of the election with an endorsement of either candidate.

“We’re going to stay wherever he is until he tells us what to do,” said Tony Forest, 44, a minibus driver. “We will vote for the candidate he picks.”

Aristide did not mention politics as he board the plane for home in a blue suit with his wife, Mildred, and two daughters.

“The great day has arrived ! The day to say goodbye before returning home,” he said in Zulu, a language he studied in South Africa. “We are delighted to return home after seven years. In Haiti also they are very happy. ... Their dream will be fulfilled. Together, we will continue to share this endless love.”

He took no questions from the dozens of journalists who gathered to see him off.

Aristide, a former slum priest who became Haiti’s first democratically elected president, did not fully serve either of his terms. He was ousted the first time in a coup, then restored to power in a U.S. military intervention in 1994. After completing that term in 1996, he was elected again in 2001, only to flee a rebellion in 2004 aboard a U.S. plane. Aristide claimed he was kidnapped. U.S. officials denied that.

In exile, he has been reclusive, doing university research and polishing his academic credentials with a doctorate awarded by the University of South Africa for a comparative study on Zulu and Haitian Creole.

Obama was concerned enough about Aristide’s possibly destabilizing influence to call South African President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday and discuss the matter, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told the Associated Press.

“The United States, along with others in the international community, has deep concerns that President Aristide’s return to Haiti in the closing days of the election could be destabilizing,” Vietor said.

Aristide’s aides say he feared that if he waited, the winner of Sunday’s vote might block his return.

In the past, both candidates — university administrator and former first lady Mirlande Manigat and popular singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly — opposed Aristide. Her husband, Leslie Manigat, who was elected in a criticized 1988 election under a military junta that quickly ousted him in a coup, has called Aristide a communist.

Now, both Martelly and Manigat stress their support for his right to return as a Haitian citizen under the constitution. Both candidates would like to attract votes from followers of Aristide’s Lavalas Family party.

Haiti’s electoral council barred Lavalas from the presidential election for technical reasons that supporters said were bogus. Its members are boycotting Sunday’s runoff.

In front of Haiti’s crumbled National Palace, a man who is supporting Martelly in Sunday’s election told Associated Press Television News that he had mixed feelings about the arrival.

“Yes, I support Aristide. I love Aristide,” said the man who gave only his first name, Carlos. “But I don’t want him to come back right now because it can be trouble for the election.”

The initial Nov. 28 vote was so troubled by fraud, disorganization, instances of violence and voter intimidation that 12 of the 19 candidates including the front-runners initially called for it to be tossed out.

Aristide emerged as a leading voice for Haiti’s poor in a popular revolt that forced an end to the Duvalier family’s 29-year dictatorship. He has said he will not be involved in politics in Haiti and wants to lead his foundation’s efforts to improve education in the impoverished Caribbean nation devastated by last year’s catastrophic earthquake.

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