Image: Haitian President Rene Preval, Jean-Max Bellerive
Erika Santelices  /  AFP - Getty Images
Haitian President Rene Preval, left, speaks next to Haitian Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, during a press conference following a meeting with Dominican President Leonel Fernandez, at the presidential palace in Santo Domingo on Saturday.
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updated 1/22/2011 8:43:37 PM ET 2011-01-23T01:43:37

Haitian President Rene Preval said Saturday that ex-dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier had every right to return home from exile, but must now face an investigation of alleged abuses during his reign.

Preval's first public comment on Duvalier since the former strongman's astonishing arrival in Haiti a week ago came at a news conference during a surprise trip of his own to the neighboring Dominican Republic.

Accompanied by Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, Preval said they met with Dominican President Leonel Fernandez for four hours to discuss Haiti's political crisis and a cholera epidemic. He spoke briefly and fielded only three questions.

"Duvalier had the right to return to the country, but under the constitution, he also must face justice," Preval told reporters. "If Duvalier is not in prison now, it is because he has not yet been tried."

Preval added that by law, Haitians cannot be barred from their homeland — and that applies to both Duvalier and former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has been in exile in South Africa since his ouster in 2004 but recently spoke of wanting to come back.

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"They do not depend on my decision," Preval said. "It is the nation's constitution that prohibits (forced) exile."

Preval declined to say whether he knew ahead of time about Duvalier's sudden appearance in the country Jan. 16, after 25 years in exile.

Duvalier says he came to help his shattered nation rebuild from last year's massive earthquake, which killed an estimated 316,000 people.

However the former leader, who ruled Haiti from 1971 to 1986 through terror and the regime he inherited from his father, has found himself under investigation for corruption, embezzlement, torture, arbitrary imprisonment, crimes against humanity and other alleged abuses during his reign.

On Friday, the 59-year-old, who is in frail health, said he was prepared to face "persecution."

Story: Is need for cash behind Duvalier's return?

In the Dominican capital Saturday, Preval did not comment on his country's disputed Nov. 28 presidential election, which was marred by widespread fraud, or on growing international pressure for Haiti to accept an Organization of American States recommendation that his favored candidate be left out of a runoff.

According to preliminary results, Preval-backed candidate Jude Celestin finished in second place and would square off against top vote-getter Mirlande Manigat in a second round.

However OAS election observers found problems with the count. Their calculations indicated that Michel Martelly, a singer known as "Sweet Mickey," beat Celestin and should be in the runoff.

The U.S. and other foreign forces have been pushing the government to accept that ruling.

Haiti's electoral commission has said it will consider the OAS recommendation.

The runoff was originally scheduled for Jan. 16 but postponed amid the wrangling. Some critics have argued that the entire election was flawed and should be thrown out and done over.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: A year after quake, Haiti still rebuilding

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  1. A Haitian woman prays with a Bible in her hand during ceremonies to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2011.The quake flattened much of the capital Port-au-Prince. (Kena Betancur / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Haitians hold hands during a ceremony at St. Christophe, where thousands of victims of the 2010 earthquake are buried, in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 11. Haiti began two days of remembrance ceremonies in honor of the nearly quarter million people who died in an earthquake. (Hector Retamal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Haiti President Rene Preval holds a wreath of flowers at a mass grave site at Titanyen, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, on Jan. 11. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Haitian workers celebrate after the inauguration of the reconstructed Hyppolite Iron Market in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 11. The historic trading center was originally constructed in the 1890s and has been rebuilt this year after a fire leveled it shortly after the earthquake. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A woman walks past an earthquake-damaged building on Jan. 11 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on the eve of the first anniversary of the earthquake. (Paul Chiasson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Martina Raymond, 5, center, stands in front of her family tent with neighbors Revdania Henry, 4, left, and Henderson Henry, 2, in a makeshift camp at the Petionville golf club on Jan. 11 in Port-au-Prince. According to UNICEF, more than half of the 4 million children in Haiti still do not attend school. In addition to educational difficulties, Haiti's children also suffer from poor access to basic water, health care and sanitation. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. An aerial view of a tent city in a Port-au-Prince on Jan. 10. (Thony Belizaire / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A woman walks at a mass grave site at Tituyan, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 11. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Residents stand near an abandoned airplane in the middle of La Piste camp on January 11 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The camp is located on a former military airport and houses approximately 50,000 Haitians displaced by the earthquake. The one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people will be marked on January 12. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Soccer players from Haiti's Zaryen team (in blue) and the national amputee team fight for the ball during a friendly match at the national stadium in Port-au-Prince on Jan.10. Sprinting on their crutches at breakneck speed, the young soccer players who lost legs in Haiti's earthquake last year project a symbol of hope and resilience in a land where so much is broken. (Kena Betancur / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Presidential candidate Jude Celestin, center, gestures to supporters during a campaign rally in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, Jan 10. An Organization of American States international monitoring team will recommend on Monday to President Rene Preval that Haiti's government-backed candidate Jude Celestin be eliminated from a presidential runoff election in favor of Michel Martelly, a popular musician who finished a close third in the contested official results, according to a copy of a report obtained by the Associated Press. (Ramon Espinosa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Students practice a lesson at L'ecole Nationale Filles de Marie (Daughters of Mary National School) near the end of the school day on Jan. 10, 2011 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Catholic school collapsed during the earthquake in 2010, killing 16 nuns, but no students died because they had left for the day. The school has been partially rebuilt and houses 600 students. According to UNICEF, more than half of four million Haitian children still do not attend school. Approximately 5,000 schools were damaged by the earthquake and rebuilding has been crippled by the clearing of rubble and land issues. In addition to educational difficulties, Haiti's children also suffer from inequitable access to basic water, health care and sanitation. Jan. 12 is the one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A Haitian evangelical parishioner looks up during a mass to remember earthquake victims at national stadium in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. Haiti will this week mark the first anniversary of the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and destroyed much of capital Port-au-Prince. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Achebelle Debora St. Til, 6, dances at the Festival of Hope, a rally led by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, at a soccer stadium in downtown Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. (Allison Shelley / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A boy plays in a refuse-clogged canal in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. When the ground shook Haiti a year ago, toppling homes like cards and killing some 200,000 people, world leaders promised quick action to ease the human tragedy and rebuild the country. A year on, the Western Hemisphere's poorest country is still reeling from the earthquake, and the international community's capacity to deliver and sustain aid effectively is being sorely tested. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Haitians stay in a tent erected in a destroyed house in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Orich Florestal, 24, left, and Rosemond Altidon, 22, stand on the edge of their partially destroyed apartment on Jan. 9. (Allison Shelley / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A woman prays during services in front of the destroyed Port-au-Prince Cathedral on Jan. 9. Haitians gather for services outside the destroyed cathedral every Sunday. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. People walk on a street in downtown Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. People displaced by the massive 2010 earthquake live in temporary shelters put up by Samaritan's Purse, a charity, on Jan. 8 in Cabaret, Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of people still live in temporary shelters. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The Presidential Palace is still in ruins as displaced people live in tents in a park across the street almost one year after the massive earthquake on Jan. 8 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Haitians wash clothes and hang them to dry on rebar remnants of a building destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Parishioners from St. Louis King of France Catholic Church dedicate a cross and a memorial put up in memory of the tens of thousands of people killed in the massive earthquake and buried in the mass grave at Titanyen, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Velune Noel, 24, lies with her cholera-infected 12-month-old son Peterson Sharmont, on a cot at a Samaritan's Purse cholera treatment center in the Cite Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 8. (Allison Shelley / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A Haitian man builds a wooden house Jan. 8 next to houses destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. Reconstruction has barely begun in Haiti a year after its catastrophic earthquake, a leading international charity said on Wednesday in a report sharply critical of a recovery commission led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. People play soccer at the site of earthquake-damaged houses in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 7. (Ramon Espinosa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Haitians work on rebuilding an iron market building destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake in downtown Port-au-Prince. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A man removes debris from the January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 6, 2011. (Kena Betancur / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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