Aristide makes triumphant Haiti return before vote

Sat Mar 19, 2011 8:22am GMT

By Joseph Guyler Delva and Pascal Fletcher

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide made a triumphant homecoming to Haiti on Friday after seven years of exile, returning despite U.S. objections two days before a crucial presidential vote.

Thousands of enthusiastic followers turned out to greet the former leader, who is still widely revered in impoverished Haiti as a champion of the poor, although viewed by the United States as divisive figure who could disrupt Sunday's election.

Supporters whooped and cheered at Port-au-Prince airport as a smiling Aristide, accompanied by his family and U.S. actor and black rights activist Danny Glover, emerged from the charter plane that brought him home from South Africa.

"If you could lean against my heart you could hear how fast it is beating, how it is singing a melody to Haiti," Aristide, wearing a blue suit, told reporters at the airport.

He said he had come back to make "a small contribution" to his country, which is struggling to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people and set back development in one of the world's poorest states.

Screaming supporters of "Titide", as he is affectionately known, waved Haitian flags and welcome banners and mobbed the black SUV that took him from the airport -- with a police officer sitting on the front of the car.

At his spacious home in the capital's Tabarre district, which had been refurbished for his arrival and draped with national flags, followers climbed walls and trees to pack the yard to greet him when he arrived. One woman rolled on the ground in delight, screaming "Long Live Aristide."

Aristide, 57, a charismatic former Roman Catholic priest, was ousted from power in 2004 through an armed rebellion.   Continued...

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