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'Baby Doc' Duvalier returns to Haiti in surprise move

By the CNN Wire Staff
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'Baby Doc' Duvalier returns to Haiti
  • NEW: A planned press conference by Duvalier was canceled
  • The former dictator's motives are not immediately clear
  • Duvalier has been living in exile for about 25 years
  • "Baby Doc" Duvalier led Haiti for some 15 years before a revolt forced him to flee

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, Haiti's former dictator, returned unexpectedly Sunday to the country after some 25 years in exile, adding uncertainty into an already turbulent situation.

Duvalier remained huddled inside his hotel Monday, as the reasons behind his visit and what he hoped to accomplish remained unclear.

A scheduled press conference at his hotel was canceled at the last minute because the hotel was not equipped to handle the crowd, and no other location could be found, Henry Robert Sterlin, a Duvalier associate, told reporters.

Sterlin said that the former dictator had returned because he was moved by the anniversary of last year's tragic earthquake, and because he missed his homeland.

The associate said he did not know how long Duvalier was staying, and added that he was not afraid to come back.

  • Haiti
  • Dictatorships

He arrived in the Haitian capital as the nation is grappling with a political crisis, sparked by fraud allegations in a presidential election.

Duvalier, wearing a dark suit and tie, greeted supporters at the busy Port-au-Prince airport. He was traveling with his wife.

The Duvalier family ruled Haiti for three decades starting in 1957, when Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier was elected president. He later declared himself president for life. When he died in 1971, he was succeeded by his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

The younger Duvalier held onto power for 15 years before a revolt forced him to flee the country. Widely accused of corruption, Duvalier has been living in France.

Upon arriving in Haiti, the former dictator and his wife went to the Karibe Hotel, according to Ryan Flaherty, head of security for Project Medishare. Duvalier's wife was swarmed by people as she approached the hotel and said that her husband had decided to return to Haiti some time ago, Flaherty reported.

"There's definite energy in the air right now," he said, as he stood with a small crowd of Duvalier supporters outside of the hotel.

"Right now, people don't know what he's back here for. People don't know if he is just visiting, or if he's here to talk about the earthquake and relief ... or, is he going to make a political move?" said Flaherty. "It's just going to be interesting to hear what he has to say."

The United Nations restricted the movement of its staff in Port-au-Prince until further notice, or until the impact of the former leader's arrival becomes clear, said Patrick Hanson, a security officer for the United Nations in Haiti.

While groups of people have gathered in various parts of the city, they are calm and no violence has been reported, he said.

Last week, Haiti marked the first anniversary of a devastating earthquake that left more than 200,000 people dead.

The January 12 anniversary of the catastrophe, as Haitians call it, comes as the Caribbean nation faces new crises: a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 3,700 people and a political impasse sparked by allegations of election fraud in the nation's presidential balloting.

Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council released preliminary election results in early December that showed former first lady Mirlande Manigat 31.4 with percent of the vote. Jude Celestin, President Rene Preval's handpicked successor, came in second with 22.3 percent, while popular musician Michel Martelly was third with 21.8 percent.

However, a review of the results, conducted by an Organization of American States monitoring team, showed Martelly winning 22.2 percent of the vote to Celestin's 21.9 percent, affording Martelly a spot in a runoff election with Manigat.

A runoff, originally scheduled for Sunday, was postponed. Haiti's constitution mandates a new presidential term starting on February 7, but it is unclear whether that will happen.

Anges Pierre-Louis, a local business owner, said Haitians are anxiously waiting to see what the government will do next, now that Duvalier has returned.

"There are so many parties here and so many mixed feelings that it's really hard to know who to turn to at the moment," she said. "We don't know what the next week or the next couple of days will bring."

CNN's Kim Segal and journalist Jean Junior Osman contributed to this report.