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Tuesday, 28 November, 2000, 16:27 GMT
Profile: Jean-Bertrand Aristide
Jean-Bertrand Aristide
Jean-Bertrand Aristide: Never far from power
By the BBC's Stephen Gibbs

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose victory in Haiti's presidential election on Sunday is all but assured, has long enjoyed extraordinary popular support in Haiti.

His rise to political power began in the 1980s.

As a Catholic priest with a gift for oratory, his early sermons encouraged the people of the poorest country in the western hemisphere to liberate themselves by overthrowing the despised tyranny of the Duvalier family.

In 1990, he was elected president with a huge majority. But his rule came to an abrupt end just seven months later when a military coup forced him from power.

American help

Mr Aristide escaped to exile in the United States.

A US soldier in Haiti
The US landing returned Aristide to power

There he encouraged the outside world to end the Haitian military's rule.

In 1994, his efforts finally paid off, when a task force of 20,000 troops, mainly from the United States, landed on the island.

Mr Aristide returned in triumph. This time, he remained in office for two years. He was constitutionally barred from seeking a second consecutive term.

Power hungry

Since 1996, the former president has been in semi-retirement - a reclusive figure in a grand mansion outside the capital Port-au-Prince.

A Haitian woman and child
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere

He has left the priesthood, married and had two children.

But power has never been far away.

Many assume that his replacement, President Preval, has simply been keeping the presidential seat warm for his mentor.

The former priest, it seems, now wants absolute power.

The Haitian people may forgive him that, if he uses it to tackle Haiti's appalling poverty, drug trafficking and decay.

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See also:

28 Nov 00 | Americas
Doubts surface over Haiti election
28 Nov 00 | Americas
Aristide supporters celebrate
19 Oct 00 | Americas
Haiti government foils 'coup plot'
14 Jul 00 | Americas
Aid threat to Haiti
09 Jun 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Haitians yearn for stability
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