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27938: (news) Chamberlain: Aristide hopes to return to Haiti "soon" (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     JOHANNESBURG, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Former Haitian President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide said on Tuesday he was discussing with officials in
Haiti the possibility of returning to the Caribbean country "as soon as
     "I do believe I will be back as soon as possible," Aristide said in an
interview with SABC television in South Africa, where he fled into exile
following a 2004 uprising against his rule.
     The comments marked the first by Aristide following this month's
Haitian elections which were won by his one-time protege Rene Preval.
     Aristide said he was talking with both his South African host
President Thabo Mbeki and others about his return, with the intention of
preventing any possible political trouble.
     "I don't have a precise date. As President Mbeki said the other day
... it has to be emerging from dialogue between President Preval, myself,
the U.N. and other countries because all are putting their heads together
to keep peace in the country.
     "I do believe as soon as possible I will have a date," he said.
     Mbeki said on Sunday that Aristide would likely return to Haiti at
some point although Preval and others would have to be consulted so that
"it doesn't produce unnecessary problems".
     Aristide, who critics have described as a tyrant who relied on violent
street gangs to enforce his rule, remains popular in Haiti's poor slums
where Preval found much of his support.
     While Preval has distanced himself somewhat from his one-time ally, he
said in a recent interview that there was nothing to stop Aristide from
returning from South Africa.