Ravalomanana returns to SA

2012-01-21 17:03

Johannesburg - The commercial plane carrying Madagascar's toppled president Marc Ravalomanana has returned to Johannesburg, after his attempt to end his exile in South Africa was thwarted in the air when his plane was forced to turn back.

Authorities from the Indian Ocean island closed their airspace to prevent his return.

The commercial plane carrying Marc Ravalomanana landed back in Johannesburg just after 14:00, about the time it had been expected to reach Madagascar's capital.

Reporters on board said it did not stop to refuel in Mozambique, as Peter Mann, a spokesperson for Ravalomanana, had said airline officials initially planned to do.

Ravalomanana has been exiled in South Africa since being toppled in 2009. When he tried to return last year, he was stopped in Johannesburg after aviation authorities in Madagascar wrote to say he was not welcome.

Supporters waiting

In Madagascar, where thousands of Ravalomanana supporters had awaited him at the capital's airport, a government minister told reporters that the populist former disc jockey who toppled Ravalomanana, Andry Rajoelina, had issued a notice closing the country's main airports to prevent the former leader's return.

Earlier on Saturday, Ravalomanana, his wife, two aides, journalists and passengers not linked to him had boarded a commercial flight operated by South African Airlink, a regional partner of South African Airways, in Johannesburg. Ravalomanana said he wanted to return to work for peace and democracy in his troubled homeland.

Saturday's events illustrate how far Madagascar has to go to return to stability, and are just one a series of setbacks that have frustrated mediators despite signs of progress.

Security officials in Madagascar had said the toppled president would be arrested if he returned. Ravalomanana said arresting him would be unlawful and would destabilise Madagascar at a delicate time in efforts to restore democracy.

Following Rajoelina's military-backed coup, Ravalomanana was convicted in absentia of conspiracy to commit murder in a case related to the turmoil during the overthrow that forced him to leave. Ravalomanana called the tribunal appointed by Rajoelina illegitimate.

Political maturity

Late Friday, South African deputy foreign minister Marius Fransman, who has led regional efforts to restore democracy in Madagascar, issued what could be read as a warning to Ravalomanana not to return, or to Rajoelina not to seek his rival's arrest.

Fransman noted "the current contextual challenges relating to the political situation in Madagascar," but did not elaborate. Then he said he was calling "on all the political formulations and the political leadership, in particular ... Mr. Andry Rajoelina and former President Mr. Marc Ravalomanana to exercise political maturity."

Asked at the Johannesburg airport about Fransman's comments, Ravalomanana said, "We are mature".

Ravalomanana has accepted a plan negotiated by Fransman that calls for elections next year overseen by a unity government. The unity government is in place, with Rajoelina as its president, but members are bickering over how positions were filled.

On Friday, Ravalomanana told reporters he would work with anyone, including Rajoelina, to "build a new Madagascar." But he acknowledged Rajoelina has rebuffed his overtures.

- AP
Read more on:    marc ravalomanana  |  andry rajoelina  |  marius fransman  |  johannesburg  |  madagascar  |  southern africa
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