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Aristide to leave South Africa for Haiti

- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2011

JOHANNESBURG | Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide will leave South Africa on Thursday night after seven years in exile, South African foreign officials said, as the U.S. expressed "deep concerns" about his return ahead of this weekend's Haitian election.

Mr. Aristide's diplomatic passport was delivered last month, and South African Cabinet Minister Collins Chabane said Thursday "we can't hold him hostage if he wants to go."

South African officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make the official announcement, said Mr. Aristide would leave immediately after addressing reporters at a Johannesburg airport.

President Obama was concerned enough to call South African President Jacob Zuma and discuss the matter, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor confirmed.

A Zuma spokesman said he was not aware of the call.

"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 destabilizing," Mr. Vietor said.

"President Obama reiterated ... his belief that the Haitian people deserve the chance to choose their government through peaceful, free, and fair elections March 20."

According to the South African Press Association, Mr. Chabane said the government cannot be held responsible for whether Mr. Aristide stays or goes.

"What I should stress is that we are not sending former President Aristide to Haiti. He was given the passport by the government of Haiti, and we can't hold him hostage if he wants to go," Mr. Chabane was quoted as telling a news conference.

Meanwhile, American actor Danny Glover arrived Thursday in South Africa and was planning to escort the ousted leader home.

Mr. Glover, chairman of TransAfrica social justice forum, asked why former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier could return to Haiti unhindered and not the twice democratically elected Mr. Aristide.

"People of good conscience cannot be idle while a former dictator is able to return unhindered while a democratic leader who peacefully handed over power to another elected president is restricted from returning to his country by external forces," Mr. Glover wrote on the TransAfrica Forum website.

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