Thousands of Haitians call for Aristide’s return
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AFP): Thousands of Haitians marched in Port-au-Prince and other cities to celebrate the first election of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and call for his return from exile in South Africa.
"We want our leader to come back to his country. He’s the only one who cares about our situation. It’s Aristide we want and not (President Rene Preval)," chanted a group of youths holding banners over their heads.
Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Tuesday’s demonstrators, mostly poor country and city residents, wore T-shirts with portraits of Aristide, known affectionately as "the little priest," who shunned the cloth to rise under a populist banner to political power.
Former officials under Aristide’s two governments also took part in the street marches in Cap-Haitien, the country’s second-largest city.
The incident-free demonstrations, monitored by police and UN peacekeepers at all times, ended with calls to Preval to keep the promise he made two years ago to let Aristide return to Haiti.
"We voted for Preval (in February 2006) because he promised to bring back Aristide," one demonstrator shouted.
A populist former Roman Catholic priest, Aristide was first elected in 1990 only to be ousted in a military coup in 1991. He was returned to power in 1994 thanks to a US military intervention.
Preval, 65, was elected president in 1996 and served until 2001, when he was succeeded by Aristide.
Aristide’s second presidency was marred by tension over 2000 elections. Opposition parties claimed the May 2000 legislative vote was rigged and later boycotted the November 2000 presidential election, which Aristide won.
Tension boiled over in early 2004 with an armed uprising that forced Aristide, who had fallen out of favor with the United States, to flee Haiti.
In South Africa, Aristide, who has maintained that he had been forced to step down under pressure from the United States and France, has said he would shun politics if he were allowed to return and instead serve Haiti as a private citizen.
Aristide, 55, has lived in Pretoria with his wife Mildred and two daughters since May 2004.