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Jailed priest in Haiti says he will run for president with ousted leader's support
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A jailed Roman Catholic priest says he is waiting for the backing of deposed leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide before he decides to run for president in the fall. The Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, who has been in jail since July without charges, has emerged as the most prominent member of Aristide's Lavalas Family movement, which is still the most popular political faction in this troubled nation.
"If Aristide approves my candidacy, I may accept the party's nomination," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday from behind a fence at a visiting area in Haiti's National Penitentiary.
Jean-Juste's insistence on Aristide's backing suggests the former president, who was ousted in a bloody rebellion in 2004, retains a firm hold on his Lavalas movement even from exile in South Africa.
Jean-Juste has been detained in connection with the kidnapping and slaying of prominent journalist Jacques Roche though authorities have offered no proof. Amnesty International has called the allegations "apparently trumped up charges" and labeled the priest a "prisoner of conscience."
The priest, who was only permitted to speak with a reporter for three minutes, said he couldn't discuss specifics, but said that his life was in danger in the prison.
He said that he fell unconscious for 20 minutes because of the heat in his cell and showed marks on his neck that he claimed were from a beating by a mob before his July arrest.
A senior member of the Lavalas Family movement said Wednesday it may boycott the elections if Jean-Juste is not released along with other party figures in time to participate.
"The masses of Lavalas Family have asked for Jean-Juste to be our candidate, so he is our likely presidential candidate," said Gerard Gilles, a former senator and a party leader.
Lavalas has been divided over whether to participate in the elections – the first since the rebellion that ousted Aristide.
"If we are pushed to boycott, these elections will be rubbish, they will have no popular legitimacy," Gilles said in an interview.
Jean-Juste is one of hundreds of prisoners in Haiti who have been held without sentence – or in some cases, charges.
Others include Yvon Neptune, a former prime minister under Aristide who has been jailed for more than a year without trial on charges of involvement in political killings.
The U.S.-backed interim government had faced mounting international pressure to release Neptune, whose prolonged detention had fueled allegations from Aristide loyalists of political persecution and focused attention on the nation's crumbling judicial system.
Separately, U.N. peacekeeping troops came under fire Wednesday as they tried to protect an electoral registration bureau in the slum of Cite Soleil, underscoring how volatile the capital remains. A peacekeeper from Peru was wounded in the leg.
"We put up a registration sign, and 10 minutes later we were under fire," said U.N. electoral worker Ricardo Philion.