Aristide joins Haiti rally to urge voters to back candidate

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Twice-ousted Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide made a rare public appearance Monday at a street rally to support the presidential candidate of the political movement he founded decades ago.

Several thousand backers of the Fanmi Lavalas party chanted and sang as they walked alongside a campaign convoy in Petionville, a hillside district where some of Haiti's wealthiest citizens live. Aristide and Lavalas candidate Maryse Narcisse waved from the sunroof of a car.

Some marchers said the rally was intended to demonstrate to Haiti's small economic elite the support Lavalas still has among members of the impoverished majority, particularly the urban poor.

"Aristide is a force for Lavalas and Petionville must know that," said Jean Bernard, a resident of a seaside ghetto.

At a swanky hotel, Aristide and Narcisse spoke briefly to reporters. Aristide said Haiti is "sick" and needs "all of its children to work together to get well."

"Our next rendezvous will be on February 7, 2017, with Dr. Narcissse as president in the National Palace," said Aristide, referring to the date that an elected leader is due to take power.

Police and security guards stood outside hotels, shops and Haiti's elections office as the rally wound through Petionville.

Aristide remains a popular but highly divisive figure more than a decade since he was toppled in a 2004 rebellion. As Haiti's first freely elected president in 1990, he had already been ousted once by a military coup before being restored to power after a U.S.-led invasion in 1994.

He insisted he wouldn't get involved in politics upon his return to Haiti in 2011 after seven years of exile in South Africa. But he is actively stumping for Narcisse, a doctor who served as a spokeswoman for Aristide while he was in exile.

He has mostly kept a low profile since returning to Haiti. He was under house arrest in 2014 amid an investigation into corruption under his government.

Narcisse finished fourth last year in the opening round of the presidential election, which was later annulled amid accusations of fraud. She is now one of 27 candidates vying to lead Haiti for the next five years in an election redo set for Oct. 9.

During the last election cycle in 2010, the splintered Lavalas faction was barred from the ballot and one-time influential members like former Sen. Moise Jean-Charles are now candidates on other platforms.

Jean-Charles opened his campaign Sunday. Last year's No. 2 candidate, Jude Celestin, is expected to hold his first rally Wednesday. Jovenel Moise, the top finisher in last year's disputed results, opened his campaign Friday.

Authorities are trying to assure people the Oct. 9 election will be better organized and more transparent than last October's annulled presidential vote.


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