Haiti detains 'Baby Doc' Duvalier

2011-01-18 22:15

Port-au-Prince - Haitian police detained former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier on Tuesday after authorities said he would be questioned and could be prosecuted over money stolen from the national treasury during his 1971-1986 rule.

Armed police escorted Duvalier, 59, from the luxury hotel in Port-au-Prince where he had been staying since his surprise return on Sunday to his poor, earthquake-battered Caribbean homeland after 25 years in exile in France.

Officers put him in a police SUV with tinted windows which drove away.

The former ruler, who is accused by human rights groups of being responsible for the killing and torture of opponents during his 15 years in power, was being taken to the office of the Port-au-Prince chief prosecutor, officials said.

"Mr Duvalier is under the control of the judicial system. He's not free, he's going to my office," Chief Prosecutor Aristidas Auguste told Reuters.

Duvalier, who fled Haiti in 1986 to escape a popular uprising, returned unexpectedly to a country gripped by political uncertainty after inconclusive November 28 elections and still struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake that struck a year ago.

As Duvalier was led downstairs from his hotel room, accompanied by his wife, he waved at journalists and some supporters gathered outside the hotel.

Free Duvalier

Duvalier supporters shouting "Free Duvalier! Free Duvalier!" chased the police vehicle taking him away, and some tried to block its path with burning tires but the convoy evaded them.

Earlier, a senior government official told Reuters Duvalier would be questioned and may be prosecuted for stealing from the treasury during his years in power as "president-for-life".

"He will be questioned and he will remain at the disposal of the judicial system," said the government official, who asked not to be named. "They will determine whether to prosecute him."

Before Duvalier was detained, a Haitian judge and a squad of police had entered the hotel, which was sealed off by armed Haitian police officers, some wearing masks and positioned on its balconies.

Since his arrival in Haiti, human rights groups and critics have demanded the government arrest and prosecute one of the 20th century's most notorious dictators for the killing and torture of thousands of opponents they say occurred during his 15-year rule.

As a chubby playboy and the world's youngest head of state at 19, Duvalier assumed power in Haiti in 1971 on the death of his father, feared dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier.

The government official said a previous judicial complaint against Duvalier, for "money stolen from the treasury", had been reactivated.

He added he believed a number of other complaints from private individuals, for other alleged "crimes", were also being prepared.