JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide will return within days to his homeland, ending seven years in exile, a South African official said Friday. The former priest remains hugely popular, and his return could disrupt the presidential runoff this month in his earthquake-ravaged country.
In Haiti, an official with Aristide's Lavalas Party confirmed that his "return is imminent."
"It's an important event for the people in Haiti because they have waited so long for this," said Maryse Narcisse, the head of Lavalas' executive council.
The party has been barred from taking part in the election, and thousands of his supporters marched last month, threatening to disrupt the election if he is not allowed to return. Many said they would boycott the March 20 runoff because any election excluding Lavalas is not valid.
Aristide fled on Feb. 29, 2004, leaving before dawn on a U.S. plane as rebels approached the capital. He accused U.S. diplomats of having kidnapped him — charges Washington denied.
His push to come back from exile follows the stunning return of former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier in January. Returning from France, Duvalier said he wanted to help reconstruct the country shattered in last year's massive quake, but there is speculation he also hoped to unlock millions of dollars frozen in Swiss bank accounts.