PORT-AU-PRINCE – The Haitian government said it has issued a
new passport to former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, enabling him
to end his exile in South Africa and return to Haiti, a government
"The passport was issued on Monday. All the formalities have been completed," the official said, asking to remain anonymous.
One of Aristide's lawyers, Ira Kurzban, said he had not received the passport.
"If they have (issued a passport for Aristide), they haven't told
me," Kurzban told AFP from Miami. Asked if Aristide would be back in
Haiti soon, the attorney said: "I think we're getting closer, but we're
not there yet."
The news, certain to add to the uncertainty in this quake-hit
nation, came as about 200 people demonstrated in the capital
Port-au-Prince calling for President Rene Preval to step down.
"Preval, give back the keys to the palace, your mission is at an
end," they shouted in front of the presidential palace, still in ruins
after the January 2010 earth quake.
Preval had been due to step down from office on Monday, but the
presidential elections have been bogged down by accusations of
corruption and vote-rigging in favor of his favored successor.
The Haiti election commission ruled on Thursday that popular singer
Michel Martelly -- and not the ruling party's Jude Celestin -- would now
face off against former first lady Mirlande Manigat in the second round
on March 20.
Preval, who passed emergency legislation last year extending his
mandate in the event of an electoral delay, 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 -- coming so soon after
former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier ended two decades in
exile -- will impact on the political scene.
Aristide has been living in South Africa since 2004, and in recent
months has repeatedly requested to be allowed to return home to the
Caribbean nation, but said he had no travel documents as his passport
Haiti's first democratically elected leader who was forced to flee
amid a popular revolt after two stints as president, Aristide has said
he wants to return to help his countrymen.
A former priest, Aristide has long maintained he was forced to step down under pressure from the United States and France.
"Since my forced arrival in the Mother Continent six and a half
years ago, the people of Haiti have never stopped calling for my return
to Haiti," he said in a statement sent to AFP last month.
"As far as I am concerned, I am ready. Once again I express my readiness to leave today, tomorrow, at any time."
Haiti has been in turmoil since the January 2010 earthquake
devastated the impoverished country, killing 250,000 people and leaving
1.3 million homeless.
Last month, Duvalier's return some two decades after he was
overthrown in a popular uprising against his brutal rule also fuelled
tensions in a nation which has known years of political upheaval and
Monday marked exactly 25 years to the day since Duvalier departed
aboard a US air force plane, bringing to an abrupt end a lavish and
notoriously corrupt dictatorship.
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.
In the days after his return, Duvalier was charged with corruption,
misappropriation of public funds and criminal association, and several
complaints have been filed accusing the former "president for life" of
crimes against humanity.
Nevertheless, Duvalier's return was welcomed by Michel Martelly, the
singer who is in a runoff election for the presidency against Miralande
Manigat, a former first lady.