- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2011

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa | Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is planning to fly back to his homeland, where former the slum priest remains hugely popular, but his return could disrupt an election this month in his earthquake-ravaged country.

In Haiti, an official with Mr. Aristide’s Lavalas Party confirmed that his “return is imminent” but declined to say how or when he is coming back.

“It’s an important event for the people in Haiti because they have waited so long for this,” said Maryse Narcisse, the head of Lavalas’ executive council. “He will not be traveling incognito. People will know he is coming.”

The party is barred from taking part in the election, and thousands of his supporters marched last month, threatening to disrupt the March 20 presidential runoff, if he is not allowed to return.

The United States has said Mr. Aristide’s presence “would prove to be an unfortunate distraction to the people of Haiti,” fearing it could change the course of the race by causing unrest.

In South Africa over the weekend, a Foreign Ministry official said Mr. Aristide will return before March 20. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to make the official announcement.

Mr. Aristide’s push to go back to Haiti follows the stunning return of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in January. Mr. Duvalier said he wanted to help reconstruct the country shattered in last year’s massive quake, but some speculate he also hoped to unlock millions of dollars frozen in Swiss bank accounts.

Mr. Aristide emerged as a leading voice for Haiti’s poor and helped lead a popular revolt that forced an end to the Duvalier family’s 29-year dictatorship. He became the country’s first democratically elected president, despite opposition from the army and Haiti’s elite.

His return would be his second from exile. He was ousted by a military coup in 1991 but reinstalled in 1994 after a U.S. military intervention forced out the military regime.

Mr. Aristide later fled Haiti again Feb. 29, 2004, leaving before dawn on a U.S. plane as rebels approached the capital.

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