PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned home Friday from a seven-year exile to the warm embrace of jubilant supporters despite criticism from the United States and domestic opponents who said his presence could disrupt Sunday's already delayed presidential election.
Aristide emerged from a chartered flight from South Africa with his family, actor Danny Glover and other supporters. Speaking to supporters and journalists, he criticized the decision to bar his political party, Lavalas Family, from the election, saying it had disenfranchised a majority of Haitians in the divided nation.
"Excluding Lavalas, you cut the branches that link the people," he said. "The solution is inclusion of all Haitians as human beings."
Despite his supporters' insistence that Aristide will not get involved in politics, some fear his presence will bring further disarray to a country struggling to emerge from a political crisis, a cholera epidemic and the devastation of the January 2010 earthquake that killed 200,000 people.
It's not clear what impact he may have on Sunday's runoff between two candidates who opposed him in the past, popular singer Michel Martelly and former first lady Mirlande Manigat.
U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten said via Twitter that the United States believes Aristide has the right to return, "but it's up to him if he wants to play a positive role in the future of Haiti."
Aristide was ousted in 2004 in a violent rebellion that swept the country.
On Friday, Aristide was mobbed by allies and journalists outside his plane before being hustled into an airport VIP lounge as several thousand supporters rallied in the streets outside the terminal.