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Lawyer: "Baby Doc" to Stay in Haiti, Trial or No

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Haitian authorities want Jean-Claude Duvalier to leave the country, but the once-feared dictator will not go and could even choose to get involved in politics, one of his lawyers said Wednesday.

Defense attorney Reynold Georges told reporters that it is Duvalier's right to remain in Haiti, but that he is free to travel. He stressed that Haiti's government has not ordered Duvalier to return to France following his surprise return on Sunday.

"He is free to do whatever he wants, go wherever he wants," Georges said of the once-feared strongman, known as "Baby Doc." "It is his right to live in his country ... He is going to stay. It is his country."

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Georges said a Haitian judge who met with the 59-year-old former leader, who apparently does not have a valid Haitian passport, asked him when he planned to leave. "They want him to leave," he insisted.

Georges portrayed the former leader as an esteemed ex-president who might choose to help a small Duvalierist political party during his time in Haiti, though he gave no details on what the help might involve.

Duvalier, who assumed power in 1971 at age 19 following the death of his notorious father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, faces accusations of corruption and embezzlement for allegedly pilfering the treasury before his 1986 ouster. He returned to Haiti on Sunday evening after being exiled for nearly 25 years.

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Alice Blanchet, a special adviser to Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, refused to speculate about Duvalier's plans to stay in a country struggling through a dire political crisis following the problematic Nov. 28 first-round presidential election, as well as a cholera epidemic and a troubled recovery from the last year's devastating earthquake.

"Let justice do its job, run its course. He is a citizen and no one is above the law," she said in a Wednesday e-mail, adding that Duvalier "remains available to the prosecutor" while he is in Haiti.

On Thursday, Duvalier stayed at the upscale Hotel Karibe in the hills above downtown Port-au-Prince and spoke publicly only through his lawyers. Duvalier and his longtime companion Veronique Roy were seen eating breakfast on his balcony.

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Outside, on the rutted streets of Port-au-Prince, there were no signs of widespread support for Duvalier. When he was led to a courthouse on Tuesday, supporters staged demonstrations on his behalf but they were tiny by Haiti standards. More than half the nation's people are too young to have lived through his government.

Most Haitians who remember the Duvalier years hoped he had left for good, closing an era of terror and repression that began under "Papa Doc." Human rights groups say tens of thousands of people were killed during the 29-year father-and-son dictatorship, while many others were maimed or forced into exile.

Haitian authorities moved toward trying Duvalier for alleged corruption and embezzlement committed during his brutal 15-year rule by opening an investigation on Tuesday, but specifics about the probe were scarce.

Duvalier defense attorney Gervais Charles said a judge of instruction will decide whether there is enough evidence to go to trial. It's a process that can take up to three months.

Duvalier has been accused in the past in Haiti of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars in public money and Swiss officials have struggled for years over what to do with his bank accounts in that country.

Even so, Duvalier's supporters say they are nostalgic for the period of relative stability in a country that has recently seen political upheavals and last year suffered a devastating quake.

For most Haitians, misery was a part of life under "Baby Doc" and after as well. When his regime was ousted in 1986, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and among the poorest in the world. That remains true in 2011.

Then as now, disease was rampant and public services almost nonexistent. Most Haitians eked out a hand-to-mouth existence while the ruling elite lived in luxury. Justice belonged only to the wealthy and powerful.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a California congresswoman with long-standing interest in Haiti, said she was worried that wealthy Haitians may have promoted the return of the former dictator, hoping to benefit if he returns to power. A power vacuum is possible when Preval leaves office on Feb. 7, she said, because a dispute over the first round of the presidential election means no date has been set for the runoff.

Meanwhile, a former lawyer for the man who helped topple Duvalier, ex-Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, said Wednesday that the ousted leader has repeatedly applied for a Haitian passport but has never heard back from his homeland's government.

Haitian leaders have apparently feared letting Aristide return, fearing clashes between his many backers and foes.

Brian Concannon, the head of the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, said President Rene Preval's government "simply refuses to respond" to Aristide's requests for a passport.

Aristide's office in South Africa has not responded to requests for comment. After being ousted in 2004, Aristide was flown into African exile aboard a U.S. plane.

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