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27964: (news) Chamberlain: Aristide can return, Haiti's president-elect says

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Joseph Guyler Delva

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Haitian president-elect Rene
Preval said on Wednesday that exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, his
former mentor, was entitled under Haiti's constitution to return to the
Caribbean country.
     But Preval, who has been told directly by Washington that it opposes
the deposed president's return, said the decision should be made by
Aristide himself.
     The future of Aristide, a hero to the poor ousted by an armed revolt
two years ago who now says he wants to go home as soon as he can, is a
critical issue for Preval as he attempts to stabilize his violent nation.
     Washington, which backed the departure of the firebrand former Roman
Catholic priest from Haiti in February 2004, repeated its opposition to his
return on Wednesday.
     State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters in Washington:
"It is probably not a good idea, it does not serve a useful purpose."
     Aristide, who won two presidential elections only to be driven from
power both times, was accused of despotism and corruption in his second
     Six days after being declared the winner of the Feb. 7 presidential
election, Preval spoke cautiously about Aristide when he held his first
news conference on Wednesday, insisted that Aristide himself would decide
whether to return.
     "The constitution says no Haitian needs a visa to leave the country or
come back to the country," Preval told reporters in the yard of his
sister's home in upscale Peguy-Ville, near the capital. "A president has an
obligation to respect the constitution."
     In South Africa, Aristide said on Tuesday he expected to return to
Haiti "as soon as possible" and in a meeting with reporters on Wednesday
said he planned to help shape the future of his country as a private
citizen with a focus on education.
     "I am confident that I can serve my country without being involved as
the president of the country now," Aristide said. He declined to rule out a
return to politics, however.
     Preval, who won the support of Aristide's legions of supporters in the
slums, served as president from 1996 to 2001, between Aristide's two terms.
He did not say whether he had talked to Aristide since the election.
     An unassuming 63-year-old agronomist, Preval said he planned to
improve security in Haiti to create better conditions for investors. An
estimated two-thirds of Haitians are unemployed and annual income is about
$390 per person.
     The poorest country in the Americas has been plagued by political and
gang violence. Nearly 2,000 people have been kidnapped for ransom in the
last year.
     "If all we have in this country is kidnapping and criminality,
investors won't come," Preval said.
     "The government is going to create conditions to encourage private
investment. The government is going to work at creating those conditions
but it won't have the capability to provide many jobs for Haitians."
     He urged Haitians to vote "massively" in runoff elections for
legislative posts on March 19. Elections officials said about 63 percent of
Haiti's 3.5 million eligible voters turned out for the first round on Feb.

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