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Aristide home to celebrity welcome

Former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide has returned home from seven years in exile to a celebrity welcome and immediately took a swipe at the decision to bar his political party from the country's presidential election.

Addressing reporters and a Haitian public who gathered round TVs and radios throughout the country on Friday, he said the decision not to allow his Lavalas Family party disenfranchised the majority in a sharply divided nation.

"Excluding Lavalas, you cut the branches that link the people," he said. "The solution is inclusion of all Haitians as human beings."

His remarks were otherwise largely devoted to thanking supporters who stayed loyal to him during his exile and helped engineer his return over the objections of the US government.

Haiti's electoral council barred Lavalas from the elections for technical reasons which its supporters say were bogus. Many of its members are boycotting Sunday's run-off election. Nevertheless, several people affiliated in the past with the now-less prominent party ran in the first round of the election.

Twice elected president and twice deposed, Mr Aristide is a popular but also polarising figure. The former priest is an advocate of the poor, who make up the vast majority of Haiti's 10 million people, and he was a leader of the movement which shook off a hated dictatorship.

But he has many critics, who say he led a corrupt government, orchestrated violent attacks on enemies and was as hungry for power as the leaders he denounced. He was last ousted in a violent 2004 rebellion that swept the country.

On Friday, he was mobbed by close allies and journalists outside his private plane before being hustled into an airport VIP lounge as several thousand supporters rallied in the streets outside the terminal.

"It's one of the most beautiful moments for the Haitian people," actor Danny Glover, who accompanied Mr Aristide from South Africa, told the Associated Press as he left the VIP lounge before the former leader. "It's a historic moment for the Haitian people."

In the street outside the airport, people listened joyfully to remarks from Mr Aristide broadcast on car radios. "This man is our father, without him we haven't lived," said 31-year-old Sainvil Petit-Frere, one of about 3,000 cheering and chanting supporters in a quickly growing crowd in the capital, Port-au-Prince. "This is the doctor who will heal the country."

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