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Aristide In Court To Testify In Journalist Murder Case

posted 8 May 2013, 08:47 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 8 May 2013, 08:48 ]

Under heavy security, former leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide makes his first public appearance in two years as he arrives in court to testify in the unsolved murder of a Haitian journalist.

PORT-AU-PRINCEHAITI (MAY 8, 2013) (REUTERS) - Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide appeared in public for the first time since returning from exile more than two years ago as he arrived at court on Wednesday (May 8) to testify about the assassination more than a decade ago of a popular radio journalist and human rights activist.

In a testament to his continued political sway, hundreds of supporters sang pro-Aristide songs and waved his picture behind police barricades down the street from the courthouse. They had pledged to accompany him from his home in a Port-au-Prince suburb to the court and back despite a ban on demonstrations for the day.

Aristide, still a polarizing figure, was accompanied by political allies and armed police guards to the judge's chamber in the capital where he was to answer questions in the case of Jean Dominique, who was gunned down in April 2000 along with a security guard outside Haiti-Inter, the radio station he owned.

His death occurred as Aristide was preparing to run for re-election in presidential elections that year and Dominique was also rumoured as a potential candidate.

While several low-level arrests of the suspected gunmen were made at the time, the matter of who ordered the murder has remained one of Haiti's great unsolved crimes.

Thirteen years later, the Dominique file has been re-opened, and several high-profile witnesses and persons of interest have already been called to the chamber of the investigating judge, Yvickel Dabrésil.

Former President René Préval, who was in power at the time of Dominique's killing, slipped in and out of the courthouse for questioning without incident earlier this year.

Aristide supporter Etienne Jean-Claude spoke out in defence of the former leader.

"Today, yes, Jean-Bertrand Aristide is supposed to face the judge to respond to any questions, but it should not be a tricky hearing. If President Martelly is talking about a state of law, the country needs to be free of Michel Francois (referring to former army colonel Joseph-Michel Francois who overthrew Aristide in 1991) and Jean-Claude Duvalier - even though I was a kid during the Duvalier regime, I know the facts. If today is about justice, then I don't think Aristide should be there," he said.

Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, became Haiti's first democratically elected leader in 1990, but was twice violently ousted from office and dispatched into exile in 1991 and 2004.

He was last seen in public in March 2011, on the morning he landed back in Port-au-Prince after seven years of exile in South Africa. Aristide returned just two months after another former president, Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier, returned from a long exile, and it was feared their presence would upset political stability as the impoverished country struggled to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 200,000 people and left more than one million people homeless.

Aristide's 2011 arrival came just days before a presidential election runoff between President Michel Martelly and another candidate, and Wednesday's appearance before the judge comes as hotly anticipated municipal and parliamentary elections are being planned.