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Lawyer: Aristide to return soon to Haiti

Former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide is hoping to return to Haiti in the coming days, ending about seven years in exile, his lawyer told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Wednesday.

“He’s going to try to return as soon as he can. It will happen very soon,” lawyer Ira Kurzban told AFP.

Aristide has lived in South Africa in exile since 2004, and the path was cleared for his return after Haitian authorities this week issued him with a new passport.

“He’s in South Africa. I got his passport,” Kurzban confirmed. Asked if Aristide could return in the coming days, the lawyer added: “That’s my hope.”

Aristide, a former priest who was Haiti’s first democratically elected leader, fled in 2004 amid a popular revolt after two stints as president. He has said he wants to return to help his countrymen.

Kurzban said he did not know the timing of Aristide’s planned return and also would not reveal how he planned to hand over the new passport which was handed to the lawyer by Haitian officials in Port-au-Prince late on Tuesday.

“Administratively on the Haitian side, there is no obstacle to the return of president Aristide,” Haitian Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime said on Tuesday.

‘National reconciliation’
The news of Aristide’s planned return is likely to fuel added uncertainty in the impoverished nation, already grappling with the devastation of the January 2010 earthquake, delayed presidential elections and a cholera epidemic.

Earlier this week about 200 people demonstrated in Port-au-Prince calling for President Rene Preval to step down.

Preval had been due to leave office on Monday, but presidential elections have been bogged down by accusations of corruption and vote-rigging in favor of his favored successor. He has now said he plans to stay in office until the next president and government is installed.

It is not yet clear how Aristide’s return will impact on the political scene, already rattled by the unexpected return of ousted dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier last month following two decades in exile.

A popular revolt led in part by Aristide forced Duvalier to flee the country in 1986, after a 15-year rule which he took on after the death of his father Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

Duvalier said in a radio interview aired Monday that he dreams of “national reconciliation” led by all of Haiti’s former presidents.

“I envision the possibility that all the former chiefs of state would form a grand council with the goal of promoting national reconciliation and rebuilding Haiti,” he said in the interview with Signal FM radio.

Duvalier returned by surprise on January 16 after 25 years in exile in France, saying he had come back to help reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake killed 250 000 people and left 1,3-million homeless. — Sapa-AFP

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