Jean-Bertrand Aristide returns to Haiti amid cheers (UPDATES) (VIDEO)


A man with a card reading "welcome back" and a photo of ousted Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide poses for a photo as hundreds of supports march through the streets to rally for the return of ousted Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Feb. 18, 2011 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Aristide was the first president in Haiti's history to be elected in a democratic election.


Allison Shelley

Haiti's former leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned to his homeland Friday after seven years in exile and days before a presidential runoff. A big cheer rose up from the Haitian supporters lined up behind a rope 200 yards from his plane, according to the New York Times.

Aristide is apparently timing his return to coincide with presidential elections Sunday, despite a request by the United States that he delay his return so as not to disrupt polling.

According to Voice of America, Washington regards the election — which pits pits former first lady Mirlande Manigat against popular entertainer Michel Martelly — as critical to Haiti's stability after years of political turmoil and the devastating January 2010 earthquake.

On Monday, The Associated Press reports, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said a return by Aristide this week could "only be seen as a conscious choice to impact Haiti's elections."

Analysts have speculated that Aristide would be returning during a time of great political uncertainty in the hopes of taking advantage of the power vacuum and resuming power.

Aristide, who led a popular revolt that forced an end to the 29-year dictatorship of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier in 1986, remains Haiti's most popular politician though he has been in exile since 2004, when he was driven from office by armed rebels. He fled first to the Central African Republic and Jamaica before settling in South Africa.

Meanwhile, Duvalier, who ruled Haiti from 1971 until 1986, made a surprise return to Haiti in January. He had been living in France. His return to Haiti sparked unrest inside the country and around the world.

It would be the second return from exile for Aristide, The AP reports— he was first was ousted by a military coup in 1991. President Bill Clinton returned him to power in 1994, using U.S. forces to oust out the military regime. But Aristide fled Haiti again on Feb. 29, 2004, as rebels approached the capital, leaving on a U.S. plane.

Glover, who starred in the "Lethal Weapon" movies, is chairman of the U.S.-based human rights group TransAfrica Forum. He reportedly jetted into South Africa to lend celebrity support for Aristide's return to Haiti.

Glover, writing on the TransAfrica Forum website, asked why former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier could return to Haiti unhindered and not the twice democratically elected 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."

Glover said Aristide would not be involved in politics in Haiti and wanted to lead his foundation's efforts to rehabilitate the country post-earthquake.

Aristide's U.S. lawyer, Ira Kurzban, has reportedly said he was confident that Aristide would return before the Sunday poll.

— Freya Petersen