Haiti to hold national funeral for 'Baby Doc' Duvalier, angering victims of his regime

PORT-AU-PRINCE(AFP) - Haiti is to hold a national funeral for former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the government said on Monday, a decision that dismayed the victims of his regime.

"It should be a national funeral, because that's what the protocol requires, as he was a head of state," Lucien Jura, spokesman for President Michel Martelly, said. "But what we don't yet know is whether there will be a decision to put flags at half-mast and declare a period of national mourning."

Martelly's administration is seen as close to figures from the Duvalier era, and on Saturday the president paid tribute to Baby Doc on Twitter as "an authentic son of Haiti." But celebrating the late 63-year-old leader's life with state honours will dismay the Haitian opposition, who remember his rule and that of his father Francois before him as a period of bloody persecution.

"On the moral level, he has no right to a national funeral. He was a dictator who did much harm to the country," said former political prisoner and former Port-au-Prince mayor Evans Paul. "But if it's the law that he have one, so be it."

Jura said a decision would be made later Monday as to how the government would approach the funeral. Duvalier supporters want Haiti to honour their hero's passing, which would be a setback for the rights activists who have been pursuing him in the courts and battling to end Haiti's culture of legal impunity for the powerful.

"He's a former president. He has the right to a special funeral," retired colonel Abel Jerome, a still influential former figure in the Duvalier regime, said on Sunday.

Baby Doc came to office in 1971 aged only 19 on the death of his ruthless father. He ruled for 15 years before being driven into exile, and only returned as a private citizen in 2011 in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake. He died on Saturday of a heart attack at age 63.

An estimated 30,000 people were killed during his reign and that of his father. Duvalier's death was greeted with indifference by the bulk of the population in a country still struggling to get back on its feet after the 2011 earthquake, but political tensions are running high ahead of a planned legislative election later this month.