|Aristide lives in exile in South Africa but remains popular among many back home as a champion of the poor [Reuters]
In a move that worried the US, Haiti has issued a diplomatic passport for ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, clearing the way for his return from exile, just in time for a presidential election runoff.
Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime said the diplomatic passport was handed over via an intermediary to Aristide's Miami-based lawyer Ira Kurzban, who was due to deliver it to Aristide.
Kurzban confirmed that he was given the ousted leader's diplomatic passport during a brief stopover in Haiti's capital.
"Yes, I have it,'' he said on Tuesday, while his evening flight back to Miami was on the tarmac in Port-au-Prince's international airport.
But it remained unclear exactly when Aristide, a former priest and Haiti's first democratically elected
president in 1990, might make the trip home from his exile in South Africa.
Kurzban said he asked Haiti to establish a security plan for Aristide in accordance with a law requiring the government to provide security for former presidents - to ensure a smooth transition.
Aristide, ousted from Haiti by an armed revolt in 2004, said in January he was ready to return "today, tomorrow, at any time" to his poor Caribbean homeland, which is struggling to recover from a crippling 2010 earthquake.
A spokeswoman for Aristide, Maryse Narcisse, said, "We will not have to wait too long" for his return. "The food is cooking," she said, citing a Haitian Creole proverb.
Major Western donors like the United States are wary that the return of the populist former president, who still has a passionate following in Haiti, could be disruptive at a time when the country is preparing to hold a decisive presidential election runoff on March 20.
Outgoing President Rene Preval's government last month agreed to Aristide's request for a passport to return, saying he had the right as a Haitian national to visit his country.
This followed the shock homecoming in January of another exile, former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who now faces charges of corruption and "crimes against humanity" after 25 years of life in France.
Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party, the country's biggest, has been barred from taking part in elections, which has led many to question the credibility of the United Nations-backed presidential and legislative vote held on November 28.
After weeks of fraud allegations and street protests, Haiti's electoral authorities announced on Thursday that the March 20 presidential runoff would be contested between former first lady Mirlande Manigat, 70, and popular singer and entertainer Michel "Sweet Mickey" Martelly, 49.