Aristide leaves for 'temporary' home

Ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide has left the Caribbean for temporary asylum in South Africa, saying he plans to return to his troubled homeland one day.

“There is one elected president of Haiti ... and it’s me,” Aristide told reporters in Jamaica on Sunday, shortly before departing aboard a South African jet with his family and bodyguards.

Aristide was due to arrive on Monday afternoon at Johannesburg International airport, South African President Thabo Mbeki was expected to greet him. Prior to leaving, Aristide called the move “temporary” until he can return to Haiti.

“[South Africa] will now be our temporary home until we are back in Haiti,” Aristide said at a Kingston hotel, flanked by his wife, Mildred, and his security detail.

Aristide didn’t say when he might return or in what capacity, but urged his supporters to refrain from violent protests on his behalf.

“The Haitian situation must be normalised.
Peace must be restored through democratic order,” he said.

Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected leader, fled the country on February 29 as rebels approached the capital, Port-au-Prince.

He was flown aboard a United States-supplied jet to the Central African Republic and later accused the United States of overthrowing him—a charge Washington flatly rejects.

Aristide never mentioned the United States by name on Sunday, but claimed he was the victim of Haiti’s “33rd coup” and said he was nearing completion on a book that would detail his final days in office.

“We’ve had 33 coups. That is enough,” said Aristide, who was also joined by US republican Maxine Waters, a California Democratic and a staunch supporter, Miami lawyer Ira Kurzban and several South African diplomats.

The 15-member Caribbean Community refuses to recognise Haiti’s US-backed government and has called on the Washington-based Organisation of American States to investigate Aristide’s departure.

Aristide and his wife arrived in Jamaica on March 15 to reunite with their two young daughters. The move angered Haiti’s new US-backed interim government, which worried his presence in the region would further destabilise Haiti, which is just 160km east of Jamaica.

Haitian officials didn’t officially comment on Aristide’s departure. Interim prime minister Gerard Latortue has opened a corruption investigation of Aristide’s administration, and officials have said they may seek his extradition for stealing state funds.

At the news conference, Aristide called the embezzlement charges “lies and accusations” drummed up by political enemies in a bid to discredit his Lavalas Family party ahead of new elections scheduled for next year.

“How can they talk about elections when they don’t allow people to say how they feel?” said Aristide, who accused opponents of killing his partisans in Lavalas’ inner-city strongholds.

“Thousands were killed just because they were supporting the elected president,” he said, though estimates put the total death toll from the crisis at around 300. “They killed them, put them in bags and dropped them in the sea.”

In South Africa, the main opposition party protested Aristide’s imminent arrival. He is to live under tight security in the capital, Pretoria, at the South African government’s expense.

“Ordinary South Africans cannot fathom why they must pay to put up the former Haitian leader,” said opposition leader Douglas Gibson. “Mr Aristide should go home.”

Haiti has been in crisis since Aristide’s party swept disputed 2000 legislative elections. International donors suspended aid and in the past year the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country became embroiled in increasingly violent confrontations between Aristide and opposition supporters. - Sapa-AP

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