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March 18, 2011

Warm welcome greets Aristide on return to Haiti



Despite his supporters' insistence that Aristide will not get involved in politics, some fear his presence will bring further disarray to a country struggling to emerge from a political crisis, a cholera epidemic and the devastation of the January 2010 earthquake. It's not clear what impact he may have on Sunday's runoff between two candidates who in the pastopposed Aristide.

"Nothing should be done to create instability or to intensify the existing problems of Haiti," said Organization of American States Assistant Secretary-General Albert Ramdin, who will be monitoring the elections. "And that is the responsibility of all — not just the candidates, but former politicians."

Many Aristide supporters, however, appeared eager for direction from him.

"We're going to stay wherever he is until he tells us what to do," said Tony Forest, 44, a minibus driver. "We will vote for the candidate he picks."

Aristide's aides have said he feared that if he waited to come back, the winner of Sunday's vote might have blocked his return. But the candidates, former first lady Mirlande Manigat and popular singer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, now stress their support for his right to return as a citizen under the constitution. Both candidates would like to attract Lavalas votes.

Aristide supporter Mackeny Jean, one of the thousands who came to cheer his arrival, said an endorsement was unlikely since both candidates were critics in the past. "I can't say that he'll support either of them because they were both so against him," said the 18-year-old.

Aristide himself cannot serve again for president under the constitution, but some say he should be allowed to run since he never fully served out either of his two terms.

Aristide, a former slum priest who became Haiti's first democratically elected president, was ousted the first time in a coup, then restored in a U.S. military intervention in 1994. He was elected again in 2001, only to flee a rebellion in 2004 aboard a U.S. plane. Aristide claimed he was kidnapped. U.S. officials deny that.

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