Latin America & Caribbean

Haiti crowds defy ban to 'protect' ex-President Aristide

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, right, greets supporters outside the courthouse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Wednesday Image copyright AP

Thousands of supporters of Haiti's former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have defied a ban on protests to follow his convoy through the streets.

Mr Aristide was attending a courthouse in Port-au-Prince to answer questions about the murder of a well-known journalist in 2000.

It was his first appearance in public since his return from exile in 2011.

Police said they wanted to prevent a repeat of the mass demonstrations which greeted him then.

Mr Aristide was ousted from Haiti from the second time in 2004 and sent to South Africa aboard a US Air Force plane.

He has kept a low profile since returning in March 2011, but still commands the loyalty of a significant section of the impoverished Haitian population.

Unsolved crime

The former Catholic priest was in court on Wednesday to give evidence on the case of journalist Jean Dominique - killed in 2000 while Mr Aristide was a leader of the opposition.

Who ordered the murder remains one of Haiti's great unsolved crimes, and the mystery became the basis of the 2003 documentary, The Agronomist, by the Oscar-winning US film director Jonathan Demme.

A series of high-profile figures have been called to give evidence into this latest investigation into the case - led by Judge Yvickel Dabresil - including former President Rene Preval, who gave evidence at the closed hearing earlier in the year.

Mr Aristide's meeting with Judge Dabresil was "very relaxed" and "there was no new request for Aristide to appear in court and no confrontation", Mr Aristide's lawyer Mario Joseph said after the hearing, according to French news agency AFP.

Despite the police order banning demonstrations, thousands of Haitians followed his four-wheel-drive - bedecked with Haitian flags - as it weaved through central Port-au-Prince.

Singing pro-Aristide songs and holding up images of the former president, his supporters said they had pledged to take him from his home to the court and back.

But correspondents said it constituted the largest demonstration against the government of President Michel Martelly this year.

Many of his supporters also voiced fears that political motivations lay beneath Mr Aristide's summoning to give evidence in the Dominique investigation.

They say it could be a ploy to make it difficult for candidates for the Lavalas party - which Mr Aristide still leads - to register to participate in looming legislative and presidential elections.

"We hope this isn't political, that the government isn't using the Jean Dominique case so Lavalas can't qualify for the elections,'' an Aristide supporter, Jean Cene, told Associated Press news agency.

A few people carried placards that read: "The more you persecute him, the more we love him", AP said.

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