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Duvalier apologizes to victims, urges unity

In his most extensive public statement since his surprise return to Haiti, former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier said it was the devastating earthquake last year that brought him back.
Image: Ousted Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duva
Jean Claude Duvalier speaks at a press conference Friday at a rented home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.Hector Retamal / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: news services

In his most extensive public statement since his surprise return, former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier on Friday said it was the devastating earthquake last year that brought him back to Haiti.

In a brief speech at a rented guest house, he said he wants to help with Haiti's reconstruction and called for "national reconciliation" as well as a "rapid resolution to the political crisis."

He added that he feels "profound sadness" for anyone harmed by his regime.

Duvalier said he was "impressed by the welcome I have received ... especially from the crowd of young people who don't know me."

Apart from a vague reference to helping "to rebuild the country," he failed to detail any specific causes or endeavors, however.

Although it was billed as a long-awaited first news conference, Duvalier took no questions from reporters at Friday's gathering. A crowd of about 100 supporters on hand for the event sang "Duvalier, the country is yours, do whatever you want," to a song punctuated by beating drums.

Human rights groups accuse Duvalier of plundering state coffers and of continuing the reign of terror of his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who died in 1971.

In addition to his remarks about "victims" of the bygone era when he ruled Haiti like his personal fiefdom, Duvalier voiced sympathy for many supporters who he said had been targeted by lynch mobs when he fled in the face of a popular uprising in 1986.

"Thousands were assassinated cowardly, burned, grilled, burned with tires,' he said. He did not elaborate, but urged an end to political bloodletting in a land that has suffered an unenviable list of woes since a slave revolt threw off French rule more than 200 years ago.

"When you make sure that the bell of national reconciliation resounds in all hearts ... and in each district, neighborhood and home, then we will rapidly reach the day where all of Haiti's children, men and women, in the country and in the diaspora, will be able to march hand in hand without exclusion and to participate together in the rebirth of Haiti," Duvalier said.

On Thursday it seemed Duvalier might once again leave Haiti.

Duvalier, who faces a court investigation in Haiti, had a plane ticket to leave the country in the morning along with his entourage. But as the day wore on it became clear the ex-"president for life," who is 59 and showing signs of ailing health, wasn't going anywhere.

The reasons for his prolonged stay remain as murky as his motivation for coming back in the first place, but advisers and confidants cite two primary motivations: the lack of a valid passport and the ongoing court investigation against him on allegations of corruption and human-rights abuses from his reign.

As his scheduled flight took off he was still in the international-style hotel in Petionville, where he had stayed in a standard room. After a group lunch on its covered patio restaurant his girlfriend, Veronique Roy, walked to a waiting car at the hotel's main door to draw off most of the press while he was shepherded to a separate car behind the compound on a concrete loading dock.

He ended up in a private home.

The court cases followed too, with investigating Judge Carves Jean and Haiti's chief prosecutor, Auguste Aristidas, among his first visitors there, Radio Metropole reported.

Defense attorney Reynold Georges told reporters earlier in the day that he couldn't speculate how long the ex-dictator would stay in Haiti, but that it would take at least two weeks to resolve the legal cases filed against him.

"He will have to answer that question himself but for now, we're here," Georges said.

Asked if Duvalier had been invited to Haiti by anyone in the government, the attorney said not to his knowledge. "It's his country. He doesn't need an invitation."

Duvalier assumed power in 1971 at age 19 on the death of his notorious father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. They presided over one of the darkest chapters in Haitian history, a period when a secret police force known as the Tonton Macoute tortured and killed opponents.