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Haiti opens door for return of ex-president Aristide

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti’s government is ready to issue a diplomatic passport to ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, opening the way for his possible return home from exile in South Africa, a senior official said on Monday.

“The Council of Ministers, under the leadership of President Rene Preval, decided that a diplomatic passport be issued to President Aristide, if he asks for it,” Fritz Longchamp, general secretary for the presidency, told Reuters.

Aristide, a firebrand leftist ex-Roman Catholic priest who became Haiti’s first freely elected president in 1990 before his later ouster, said earlier this month he was ready to return to his homeland “today, tomorrow, at any time.”

Major western aid donors to Haiti like the United States have been wary about his possible return to the poor, earthquake-battered and volatile Caribbean nation.

He remains very popular at home and some fear he could mobilize supporters who could disrupt an already confused ongoing presidential and legislative elections process. Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party was banned from taking part.

His Miami-based lawyer, Ira J. Kurzban, on Monday formally requested the diplomatic passport in a letter sent to Haiti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Marie-Michele Rey and Minister of the Interior Paul Antoine Bien-Aime.

Aristide’s plans to return home follows the controversial return to Haiti on January 16 of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. Duvalier, 59, now faces charges in Haiti of corruption, theft and crimes against humanity.

Writing by Pascal Fletcher, Editing by Eric Walsh