Aristide says he wants to return to Haiti

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Exiled former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said Friday he was ready to return to his quake-devastated country, but it was not clear when or how.

Aristide, appearing with his wife in front of reporters at an airport hotel in Johannesburg, spoke of Haitians waiting to be rescued from the rubble of Tuesday’s quake.

“We feel deeply and profoundly that we should be there, in Haiti, with them, trying our best to prevent death,” said Aristide, who has been exiled in South Africa since being ousted in a 2004 rebellion.

He said friends were ready to give him a plane to go back with emergency supplies.

His wife Mildred sat next to him, eyes downcast, twisting a handkerchief. Both dabbed at their eyes as they left a conference room following Aristide’s brief statement.

Aristide refused to take questions. Saul Kgomotso Molobi, a South African foreign affairs ministry official who had accompanied the former priest to the briefing, said South Africa knew of no plans for Aristide to return. Molobi said he could not answer questions about what arrangement would have to be made.

Aristide became popular as a priest in the Haitian slum of La Saline, and was elected president in 1990. He was ousted in a military coup the following year, then U.S. troops restored him to power in 1994.

After stepping down, he was re-elected in 2000 but was ousted again in a bloody 2004 rebellion amid charges that he broke promises to help the poor, allowed drug-fueled corruption and masterminded assaults on opponents.

Since he was flown to South Africa on a U.S. plane, he has rarely spoken in public, though he released a statement earlier this week expressing solidarity with Haitians in the wake of the quake.

At home, Haitian protesters have periodically called for Aristide’s return over the years. In speeches relayed to supporters in Haiti from South Africa, Aristide has hinted at returning, but said he merely wants to be a teacher.

Aristide and his wife live with their two daughters in a government villa in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, just north of Johannesburg. The couple has embraced an academic life, with Aristide writing on the linguistics of Zulu and Haitian Creole, as well as on the theology of love.