Haiti's 'Baby Doc' Duvalier detained for questioning in dramatic morning

Less than two days after unexpectedly returning to Haiti, former dictator Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier was brought to court for questioning over alleged crimes committed during his brutal rule.

By , Correspondents

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    Police officers take former dictator Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier out of his hotel in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday Jan. 18. Haitian police took Duvalier, who abruptly returned to Haiti on Sunday, out of his hotel to a waiting SUV without saying whether he was being detained for crimes committed under his brutal regime.
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Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was taken into custody Tuesday, just two days after the former dictator’s baffling return to Haiti after nearly 25 years in exile.

Mr. Duvalier was escorted out of the upscale Karibe Hotel in Port-au-Prince’s Petionville neighborhood where he’d been holed up with advisers since flying into the country on Sunday evening.

He didn’t speak as he descended a staircase, without handcuffs, shortly after noon local time, wearing a suit and tie, smiling and waving after a dramatic morning in which a judge, the country's top prosecutor, and police all entered his hotel room as armed special forces stood by.

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He was taken from the hotel where scores of journalists and small contingents of anti-Duvalier demonstrators and loyal Duvalierists had gathered. His supporters called for police to arrest the current president and later tried to block some roads.

A convoy carried Duvalier toward downtown Port-au-Prince. The Associated Press reported that Duvalier was being taken to court. Reuters added that he would be questioned by judicial authorities to determine whether he should be prosecuted for alleged crimes committed during his rule.

Rights group call for Baby Doc's arrest

Exactly why Duvalier returned to the country he ruled brutally for 15 years before being overthrown in a popular uprising in 1986 remained a mystery, although his presence immediately threw a wrench into a protracted election standoff between government-endorsed candidate Jude Célestin and the popular musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly.

Since arriving at the Port-au-Prince international airport on Sunday afternoon, international human rights organizations have called for Duvalier's arrest and prosecution.

Amnesty International said he should be tried for crimes against humanity. “Haiti is under the obligation to prosecute him and anyone else responsible for such crimes,” Javier Zuñiga, special adviser at the human rights organization, said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch echoed the idea. “Duvalier's return to Haiti should be for one purpose only: to face justice," José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for the group, said in a separate statement.

Duvalier took over from his father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, in 1971 and ruled Haiti until 1986. Over the course of three decades, the Duvalier regime was responsible for between 20,000 and 30,000 murders, Human Rights Watch said. The regime used a secret police, called the "Tonton Macoutes," to allegedly kill and torture political opponents.

“Baby Doc" allegedly pilfered hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds and lived lavishly off the money in southern France with his partner, Veronique Roy, who appeared with him Tuesday as he was taken from the hotel.

President pressured to prosecute

Duvalier has not spoken publicly. A press conference set for Monday was rescheduled to today, though it appeared likely to be canceled.

His return from France came as a surprise to many, including political observers who said they could not understand why the ex-dictator was back in Haiti.

“He doesn’t have a base of support in Haiti,” says Mark Weisbrot, codirector of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, which monitors Haitian politics. “Many people don’t remember him or are too young to have lived under him. But there is also a whole generation of politicians in Haiti who based their political identities as being in opposition to the Duvaliers, including [President] René Préval.”

Mr. Préval, who told reporters in 2007 that Duvalier would face justice for the alleged theft and killings, was reportedly under intense pressure to detain the former dictator.

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