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Aristide Wants to Return to Assist in Haiti Recovery

An emotional former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide is seen at the OR Tambo Southern Sun hotel in Johannesburg, 15 Jan 2010

Controversial former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide says he would like to return home to assist in rebuilding Haiti in the wake of this week's earthquake. The former Haitian leader lives in forced exile in South Africa.

Mr. Aristide says he and his family are ready to leave for Haiti at a moment's notice.

"As far as we are concerned, we are ready to leave today, tomorrow, at any time, to join the people of Haiti, to share in their suffering, help rebuild the country," he said. "Moving from misery to poverty with dignity."

Aristide has been in exile in South Africa since being ousted in a bloody rebellion in February 2004. He was hastily flown out of Haiti in a U.S. aircraft and said later that he had been kidnapped, an allegation the United States rejected.

Aristide did not offer any indication of when or how he could return to Haiti but said friends have offered him the means to do so.

"Friends from around the world have confirmed their willingness to organize an airplane carrying medical supplies, emergency needs and ourselves," he said.

Aristide who addressed the media at an airport hotel near the country's main airport, said that he should be at home, helping Haitians.

"Many people remain buried under tons of rubble and debris, waiting to be rescued. When we think of their suffering we feel deeply and profoundly that we should be there, in Haiti, with them, trying our best to prevent death," he said.

Aristide, a priest turned politician, became Haiti's first democratically elected president in 1990, but was overthrown in a coup the following year and went into exile in the United States.

He was restored to power with U.S. assistance in 1994, but was prohibited from standing for a consecutive second term. In 2000 he was once again elected president in a contested election, but by the time Haiti celebrated its bicentennial of independence in January 2004 there were widespread protests against his rule.

There were charges he failed the poor, turned a blind eye to drug-related corruption and authored violent assaults on his political opponents.

In South Africa, Aristide turned to academia, became an honorary research fellow at the University of South Africa, learned Zulu and earned a doctorate in African languages.