Haiti’s former leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide has left South Africa to return to his home country after seven years in exile, officials say. He is expected in Port-au-Prince early on Friday, two days before Haiti’s presidential run-off vote.
The US is deeply concerned that his return could destabilise the country. But Mr Aristide, a populist left-winger who was forced to flee in 2004 amid a rebellion, has said he will not seek an active role in politics.
His return has been rumoured for weeks.
Mr Aristide was given back his diplomatic passport last month, and his lawyer has said he wanted to return quickly in case the winner of Sunday’s election reversed the decision to allow him back. Mr Aristide left Johannesburg late on Thursday and is expected back in Haiti by noon on Friday.
He still has many supporters, and last month thousands took to the streets to urge him to end his exile. Another former leader, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, also recently returned to the country. He is now being sued for torture and other crimes against humanity. Pop-star candidate. US officials said President Barack Obama had called his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma earlier to express concern over the issue
The United States, along with others in the international community, has deep concerns that President Aristide’s return to Haiti in the closing days of the election could be destabilising,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.
Former First Lady Mirlande Manigat and the pop star Michel Martelly, known as Sweet Micky, face each other in the final round of voting in the presidential election.
The campaign has been dogged by controversy.
The governing party’s candidate was withdrawn after international monitors found widespread fraud in his favour in November’s first round.
The new president will face multiple problems – the country is still struggling to rebuild after last year’s devastating earthquake.
And a subsequent outbreak of cholera now appears to be worse than first thought, with health experts warning the infection could spread to 800,000. The controversy surrounding Mr Duvalier and Mr Aristide, two major figures from Haiti’s past, has threatened to overshadow Sunday’s vote.
Mr Aristide, a former Catholic priest, became Haiti’s first freely elected president in 1991, but was overthrown after seven months.
He was re-elected in 2000, but his second term was soured by economic instability, and he fled amid a rebellion. His party Fanmi Lavalas was barred from standing in the current election, apparently because of technical errors in its application forms.