Deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide came to South Africa on Monday for an open-ended stay far from his tumultuous Caribbean island home and close to one of his most steadfast international supporters, President Thabo Mbeki.
Aristide, whose exile has taken him across the Atlantic three times since leaving Haiti on Feb. 29 in the face of a rebel insurgency, received a greeting worthy of a sitting head of state as he stepped onto a hastily laid square of red carpet on the tarmac at Johannesburg International Airport. A South African air force jet had flown him, his wife and their two young daughters from Jamaica, where they had been since March.
Mbeki embraced Aristide, who then proceeded along a receiving line, shaking hands with dozens of dignitaries, including most of Mbeki's cabinet and representatives of several African nations.
South African officials called Aristide's exile here a "temporary visit" and said he had not been granted political asylum.
Neither Mbeki nor Aristide took questions from reporters. In prepared remarks, Aristide made clear -- as he had in comments upon leaving Jamaica Sunday afternoon -- that he intends to return to Haiti.
"Today, instead of Europe, we are welcomed in Africa, our mother continent, our temporary home until we are back in Haiti," Aristide said. "Of course, the Haitian situation must be normalized. Peace must be restored through democratic order."
Aristide became Haiti's first democratically elected president in 1991, but after seven months he was removed in a military coup. He was restored to power three years later behind a U.S. invasion. In 2000, Aristide was elected president again, but opposition parties boycotted the vote as unfair.
Mbeki attended the 200th anniversary of Haiti's founding as an independent nation in January and contributed $1.5 million to the event. South African officials had signaled their willingness to accept Aristide shortly after he left power, but did not approve the visit until after Mbeki won a second term in April.
Aristide instead went first to the Central African Republic, then Jamaica. He has accused the United States of kidnapping him on Feb. 29 and forcing him to leave Haiti -- a charge U.S. officials have denied.