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Haiti's political twist: Former dictator Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier shows up

Haiti's Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, whose brutal rule ended when he fled in 1986, returned unexpectedly on Sunday. His arrival complicates the political landscape, in which a runoff election for president has been delayed.

By Ezra FieserCorrespondent / January 17, 2011

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier (c.) waves to supporters from a hotel balcony after his arrival in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday. Duvalier returned to Haiti after nearly 25 years in exile, a surprising and perplexing move that comes as his country struggles with a political crisis and the stalled effort to recover from last year's devastating earthquake.

Dieu Nalio Chery/AP

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Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, known for his ruthless rule in the 1970s and early '80s, returned to Haiti from exile on Sunday, providing an unexpected twist to an already protracted political situation in the earthquake-tattered country.

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Mr. Duvalier took power after the death of his notorious father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, in 1971 and ruled Haiti until 1986, when he was overthrown in a popular uprising. During their three decades in power, the Duvaliers ruled the Caribbean country with brutality, employing a secret police called the "Tonton Macoutes" to torture and kill opponents and suppress political movements. “Baby Doc” Duvalier also looted national coffers of millions of dollars before he fled to France in 1986.

His return came as a surprise to the international community and many Haitians. Officials on the Caribbean island of Guadalupe, where the flight had a stopover, notified Haitian authorities that Duvalier would be arriving.

Upon his arrival at Port-au-Prince’s international airport Sunday evening, a crowd of supporters and security agents whisked him away, Haitian media reported. Duvalier said he would address reporters today in a press conference.

In 2007, Haitian President René Préval told reporters that if Duvalier returned to Haiti, he would face justice for the deaths and embezzlement. But on Sunday, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told the Associated press that Duvalier “is a Haitian and, as such, is free to return home.”

Questioning Baby Doc's return

For some Haitians, "Baby Doc" represented little more than a name from a bygone era.

“I know people say he was a dictator, but a lot of us are too young to remember much about him,” says Jermaine Antoine, who was left homeless by the January earthquake that killed at least 230,000 people. “People are wondering why he’s here, why he came back.”

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