Mbeki welcomes deposed Haitian leader to £30,000-a-month stay in South Africa

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The Independent Online

The deposed Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide arrived in South Africa to a red-carpet welcome yesterday amid strong opposition protests over how President Thabo Mbeki has warmed to the former dictator.

The deposed Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide arrived in South Africa to a red-carpet welcome yesterday amid strong opposition protests over how President Thabo Mbeki has warmed to the former dictator.

Mr Mbeki, who rarely greets heads of state at airports, and who was not at the airport when the President George Bush or the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder visited his country, was at Johannesburg airport to meet Mr Aristide.

Most of his cabinet were also present as well as diplomats, members of the US Congressional Black Caucus, who have denounced the US "coup" against Mr Aristide, and Mozambique's foreign minister, representing the African Union (AU). Mr Mbeki said: "I want to say welcome to President Aristide, Madame Aristide and the children. Welcome to the African continent and to South Africa."

This has outraged the opposition Democratic Alliance, which argues that Mr Mbeki's warm relationships with disgraced dictators including Mr Aristide and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe are costing South Africa its international reputation.

Mr Mbeki was the only world leader present at Haiti's bicentennial celebrations, hosted by Mr Aristide before he was ousted last year. His government also tried to ship arms to Mr Aristide while he was in power and has backed a UN investigation into allegations that America drove him from power as part of its "regime-change" philosophy. The Democratic Alliance (DA) is particularly incensed by the huge budget the South African government will allocate for Mr Aristide's upkeep. It has argued the money, which it claims will be more than £30, 000 a month, could be better used to cater for the poor homeless in South Africa. Douglas Gibson, a DA spokesman, said in a statement: "Haiti is far beyond our sphere of influence. Aristide should go home." He added that South Africa had no business to worry about Mr Aristide.

While in Jamaica, Mr Aristide was gagged from speaking to media, but the government has hinted that this will not be the case here as "South Africa is a free country".

Mr Aristide, who flew to South Africa accompanied by Kingsley Mamabolo, Mr Mbeki's envoy on African affairs, and representatives from Jamaica, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the US Congressional Black Caucus, thanked his hosts in English and Zulu. "How grateful we are for the opportunity to thank President Mbeki, the government and people of South Africa," said Mr Aristide, adding his family was happy to be on the "mother continent of Africa" until it becomes possible for them to return to Haiti.

Mr Aristide, who insists that he remains his country's elected president and has accused Haiti's new government of harassing and killing his supporters on the Caribbean island, is in South Africa for an indefinite period. He will initially stay in an official guest mansion in Pretoria at taxpayers' expense.

Mr Aristide fled an armed revolt in Haiti on 29 February and was flown to the Central African Republic on a flight arranged by the US amid speculation he hoped to settle in South Africa. He travelled to Jamaica to be reunited with his children and to arrange exile elsewhere. South Africa approved his asylum request two weeks ago after a request from Caricom and following talks with the African Union.

Mr Mbeki's opponents say he has turned a blind eye to Mr Aristide's deplorable human rights record.

But Aziz Pahad, the South African Deputy Foreign Minister, said Mr Mbeki had agreed to host Mr Aristide temporarily "as a contribution towards stabilising the situation in Haiti". He added: "South Africa has a responsibility as an African country and as part of the international community to ensure that democracy and peace prevail in Haiti and that the people of Haiti are able to choose who their leaders should be."

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