Haitian lawmaker released from jail amid protests

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A Haitian lawmaker who was jailed on charges that he escaped prison on the day of last year’s massive earthquake was let go Friday.

Following his release, Dep. Arnel Belizaire went to parliament as several dozen supporters gathered outside the building to greet him with hugs and cheers.

The overnight detention of Belizaire was a rare instance in which police have locked up a government official. Investigators must formally request that immunity be lifted before they can question an official.

Police jailed Belizaire Friday shortly after he had returned from a trip to France. Police say Belizaire was an escaped prisoner who fled the national penitentiary in the chaotic aftermath of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. He had been locked up since 2004 on an illegal weapons charge.

Despite his criminal record, Belizaire somehow proved eligible to run for office in a drawn-out election that began last year and ended early this year; candidates are required to show they have a clean record. Belizaire was elected to parliament in a March 20 runoff.

Since he took office, Belizaire has been an open critic of Haitian President Michel Martelly, who was sworn in in May, and the two have been heard lashing out at each other at the National Palace.

Belizaire is a member of Veye Yo, a political party headquartered in Miami, Florida, that has strong ties to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The detention of Belizaire threatens to aggravate already uneasy relations between Martelly and parliament, whose members rejected the leader’s first two picks for prime minister before approving the third.

The head of the United Nations mission in Haiti and the French Embassy on Friday responded to Belizaire’s detention by issuing statements. France urged the government and legislature to bear in mind “procedures” involving the separation of powers and parliamentary immunity.

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