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Aristide eyes return to Haiti from exile

Haitians adjusting to the sudden return of one exiled ex-president could soon have another on their hands.

Former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier was holding court with allies at an upscale hotel Thursday before slipping away to an undisclosed destination.

Meanwhile, ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide sent out a letter saying he is ready to come back from six years of South African exile "today, tomorrow, at any time."

"As far as I am concerned, I am ready," he wrote in an e-mail distributed by supporters and posted online. "The purpose is very clear: to contribute to serving my Haitian sisters and brothers as a simple citizen in the field of education."

Aristide was ousted in 2004, leaving Haiti aboard a U.S. plane as a small group of rebels neared the capital. His return has been a principal demand of his Fanmi Lavalas party, which has lost influence as election officials blocked it from participating in elections including the disputed Nov. 28 vote now under challenge. Aristide himself has remained a widely popular figure.

He is two years younger than Duvalier, the 59-year-old ex-dictator he spoke against as a priest in the La Saline slum. Together the men represent the two main opposing forces in Haitian politics over the past half century: stable, often brutal authoritarianism in favor of elites, against charismatic populism that opponents said bordered on demagoguery.

According to Duvalier's confidants the two men have never met. Their mutual presence in Haiti could cause long-simmering tensions to erupt.

The U.S. State Department reacted to Aristide's letter in a series of Twitter posts by spokesman P.J. Crowley. "This is an important period for Haiti. What it needs is calm, not divisive actions that distract from the task of forming a new government," said one.

The other: "We do not doubt President Aristide's desire to help the people of Haiti. But today Haiti needs to focus on its future, not its past."

Duvalier applied for a new passport Wednesday and intends to leave Haiti when he gets it, a spokesman said, insisting that the once-reviled strongman cannot be forced to leave his homeland or compelled to stay and face a potential criminal trial for alleged corruption and human-rights abuses.

He had been scheduled to leave Thursday but can't because his passport has expired, said spokesman Yves Germain Joseph. He stunned the country Sunday with his sudden and mysterious return nearly 25 years after he was forced into exile by a popular uprising against a regime widely viewed as brutal and corrupt.

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