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27964: (news) Chamberlain: South Africa-Aristide

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   PRETORIA, Feb 22 (AP) -- Ousted Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide
said Wednesday he was ready to end what he called an unconstitutional
exile, but the timing of his return was up to his former protege, the
nation's newly elected president.
   In an interview with international news agencies, Aristide congratulated
the Haitian people and President-elect Rene Preval, whom he called "my
president," on the Feb. 7 election, only the fourth in Haiti's 202 years of
   Preval was belatedly declared victor Feb. 16 as ongoing protests over
alleged election irregularities threatened to turn violent.
   "What happened indicates the road toward freedom and democracy and not
toward coups d'etat," he said Wednesday.
   Aristide has been a guest of the South African government in a villa in
the presidential compound since he was ousted in February 2004 amid street
protests and an armed uprising in the former French colony.
   He said he expected to hear soon when he could return home.
   "The date of my return will emerge from consultations" among Preval, the
United Nations, the Caribbean Community and his host, the South African
government, he said.
   South African officials have said there must be a safe environment for a
return of Aristide, who survived three assassination attempts in Haiti.
   Preval has demurred on whether he would allow Aristide back, saying only
that the constitution does not bar any Haitian from returning.
   French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said in online
briefing Wednesday: "The question of an eventual return to Haiti of
ex-president Aristide concerns the Haitian authorities. At this moment when
the country is embarking on a new stage, the international community should
stay alert to preserve political stability."
   Aristide, when asked if he had spoken to Preval, said, "It's a private
   About their relationship, he said, "I care about democracy, I care about
my president, so when you respect him, you pay attention to what he will be
   Aristide, elegant in a gray suit and silk socks, pledged to return to
Haiti as a private citizen.
   "I don't need to be a politician ... to enjoy what I'm doing right now.
Being involved in research, in education, this is a joy for me," he said.
   Aristide has been doing research and other work with a South African
correspondence college.
   He nurtured the career of Preval, an agronomist who served as his prime
minister and was elected president in 1994 when constitutional limits
barred Aristide from running for consecutive terms. Preval was largely seen
as keeping the presidential seat warm for Aristide's second successful run
for office.
   The two men fell out for reasons that were never publicized.
   Aristide's Lavalas Family party, in disarray since his departure and
with hundreds of members jailed without charge by the interim government,
belatedly asked its supporters to vote for Preval.
   Asked what he believed those voters wanted, Aristide said, "Based on
what I hear and based on what I see, the majority of the Haitian people
wanted me to go back, wanted me to return ... Haitian people expect that
   No ousted Haitian leader has returned home. Jean-Claude Duvalier, whose
family ruled Haiti for decades, lives in France. Former Gen. Raoul Cedras,
who helped drive the military coup that pushed Aristide out of power for
the first time in 1991, lives in Panama.
   Former President Clinton sent 20,000 troops to Haiti in 1994 to restore
Aristide, Haiti's first freely elected leader. Aristide accuses the United
States of orchestrating his 2004 departure. American officials say they
only chartered a plane to aid Aristide's exit at his request.
   The Caribbean nation of 8 million people is one of the most impoverished
in the world and some 80 percent of Haitians are illiterate.
   Aristide said 1 percent of Haiti's population controls 95 percent of the
wealth under a system he likened to South Africa's toppled apartheid
   The former president told reporters his areas of academic interest were
the African cultural and political renaissance, which South Africa is seen
as leading, and the Zulu spirit of "ubuntu" -- unity and interdependence,
or, as he put it, "one hand needs the other hand to wash itself."

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