updated 2/22/2006 1:43:39 PM ET 2006-02-22T18:43:39

President-elect Rene Preval said Wednesday the constitution permits the return of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was forced to flee into exile following a violent rebellion two years ago.

Preval, a former protege of Aristide who shares the ousted leader’s strong support among the poor, said the former president has a legal right to return to the volatile Caribbean nation.

“My position is simple on President Aristide and any other citizen who wants to come to Haiti,” Preval said in his first news conference since being declared winner of the Feb. 7 election. “Article 41 of the Haitian Constitution says that no Haitian needs a visa to enter or leave the country.”

Aristide said Wednesday he was ready to end what he called an unconstitutional exile in South Africa, but the timing of his return was up to his former protege.

The United States and other countries have warned that the return of Aristide, who was forced to flee the country following a violent rebellion two years ago, could further destabilize Haiti.

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