Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide waved his hand in victory Friday morning as he stepped off the private aircraft that brought him home after seven years of exile in South Africa. He later told Haitians that he had returned to “serve you in love.’’
Outside Aristide’s home in Tabarre, thousands of supporters gathered to welcome him back. Said one: “Today is a good day.’’
Aristide, accompanied by his wife and two daughters, was met at the airport by supporters and diplomats, including the Venezuelan ambassador.
“I’m happy to greet you. My brothers, sisters, honor, respect,’’ Aristide said during a welcoming speech.
He added: “If you could put your hands on my heart you would feel how it is beating.”
Later in the 15-minute address, Aristide said he returned “to serve you in love. Your role is to live so Haiti doesn’t die.’’
He arrived at the new, post-earthquake diplomatic lounge on the grounds of the damaged international airport. The former president, who was twice democratically elected and twice deposed, was also accompanied by actor Danny Glover and his Miami lawyer Ira Kurzban.
Outside the airport, thousands of Aristide supporters paraded on foot and motorcycle, carrying framed and unframed photos of him, and tree branches. With a Haitian rara band and tiny flags, they sang “Long live Aristide,’’ as they cursed the two candidates in Sunday’s presidential election.
The crowd grew during the morning. Earlier, the streets were free of crowds, a far contrast to the thousands who danced and sang on the Champs de Mars the evening before as presidential candidate and Aristide opponent Michel “Sweet Micky’’ Martelly rallied fans with superstar performances by Wyclef Jean and Busta Rhymes.
Aristide’s arrival comes despite diplomatic pressure — by the United States and others in the international community — to keep him out before Sunday’s historic vote to choose a successor of outgoing President René Préval, his one-time protege.
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