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Duvalier in France: far from the madding crowd

He gardens. He plays with his children. Or he just watches television. Deposed dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier denies any involvement in this week's Army coup in Haiti. From his comfortable villa in Mougins on the Cote d'Azur, he recently received two French journalists from Le Figaro magazine to tell how he had constructed a tranquil domestic life with his wife Michele and two young children.

Haitian and French diplomats here accept his word.

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``Duvalier didn't play any role,'' a Haitian diplomat assures. Adds a French diplomat: If he intervened in Haitian politics, ``it would endanger his stay here in France.''

When he arrived here in 1986, Mr. Duvalier was supposed to stay only for a week before moving on to permanent residence. The governing French Socialists were concerned that their unwelcome, unpopular guest would bring unwanted publicity.

But no other country would accept the dictator, and the French were forced to keep him. Duvalier's name fell from the front pages, and even after this week's coup, few French newspapers except the arch-conservative Le Figaro bothered to mention him.

``The government can expel Duvalier, but where would they send him?'' asks Yann Colin, a lawyer representing the Haitian government. ``He is tolerated because he doesn't make too much noise.''

That silence now may end. The dictator faces judgment next week (June 27) in a French court for fraud. The suit brought by the Haitian government demands the former dictator pay back $120 million of government funds which he allegedly used to buy jewels, luxury cars, and houses.

In his Le Figaro interview, Duvalier defended himself by saying he only owns one house - a chateau outside of Paris.

As for the money which disappeared from the state budget, Duvalier insists he and his wife distributed it to the poor in ``unemployment benefits, Christmas gifts, and hot meals.''

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