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Lawyer: Aristide back in Haiti by Friday

The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The lawyer for Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Ira Kurzban, said the exiled former leader would be back in Haiti by noon Friday. The one-sentence statement gave no further details.

Aristide has been in exile in South Africa since he was ousted in a rebellion in 2004. The United States had urged him to delay his return, fearing it could disrupt Sunday's presidential election in the fragile nation.

"We can't hold him hostage if he wants to go," South African Cabinet Minister Collins Chabane said yesterday in Johannesburg, noting that Haiti's government had delivered Aristide's diplomatic passport last month.

At Johannesburg's second international airport on the city's northern outskirts, about a dozen massive suitcases were marked "Aristide." Danny Glover, the actor and social justice activist, arrived yesterday morning to help escort Aristide, his wife and two daughters home.

The former slum priest was twice elected president of Haiti and remains wildly popular among the Caribbean nation's majority poor. Thousands of people are expected to welcome him home.

After his first election, Aristide was ousted in a coup and restored to power in a U.S. military intervention in 1994. After completing his term he was re-elected years later, only to flee a rebellion in 2004 aboard a U.S. plane. Aristide claimed he was kidnapped.

President Barack Obama was concerned enough to call South African President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday and discuss the matter, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Associated Press.

The two top candidates Sunday had opposed Aristide in the past. Now, both Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigat stress his right to return as a Haitian citizen under the constitution.

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