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Ex-Haitian leader Aristide in rare public show

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide made a rare public appearance Wednesday, causing thousands of his supporters to pour out into the streets of the capital.

The former Roman Catholic priest known as a champion of Haiti's poor and reviled by the Caribbean nation's elite was in court to testify before a judge about the 2000 murder of prominent journalist Jean Dominique.

Aristide was not in power then, but rather a leader of the opposition. He was questioned Wednesday as part of a broad, long running probe into the killing.

Supporters greeted Aristide loudly as he exited the courthouse, while others shouted "Aristide is the strongest!" in downtown Port-au-Prince.

"He's a real phenomenon. More than 20 years after his election, he continues to mobilize crowds," former senator Gerald Gilles said before the hearing.

Senator Francky Exius explained that Aristide's court appearance was an opportunity to fire up party activists ahead of 2014 legislative and 2015 presidential elections.

Lawmakers and former elected officials accompanied Aristide, who returned to Haiti in March 2011, while important security measures were taken around the tribunal, located downtown.

The meeting with Judge Ivikel Dabresil was "very relaxed" and "there was no new request for Aristide to appear in court and no confrontation," Aristide lawyer Mario Joseph said after the hearing.

Dominique, who was exiled during the government of ex-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, was killed 13 years ago in the courtyard of Radio Haiti-Inter, a station he owned. The stations' guard was also killed by unknown gunmen.

Since the incident, no less than 12 judges have taken turns in presiding over the much talked about case.

Another former president, Rene Preval, testified in March. A former interior minister and ex-police officials have also showed up in court.

Aristide was president from 1991 to 1996 and 2001 to 2004, though his first mandate was cut short from September 1991 to October 1994 by a coup d'etat that saw him take refuge in the United States.

He eventually left Haiti in 2004 aboard a US Air Force plane into exile in South Africa amid political turmoil.

The 59-year-old has kept a low profile since returning to Haiti two years ago, just weeks after Duvalier also made a dramatic comeback.

A judge has recommended that Duvalier face trial for embezzlement in a separate case. He also faces a number of complaints of crimes against humanity, though no charges have been filed.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130510/ex-haitian-leader-aristide-rare-public-show