Ousted Exiled Madagascar President’s Flight Home Diverted

Posted January 21st, 2012 at 8:15 am (UTC-5)
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The flight of Madagascar's ousted president to his island homeland Saturday has been diverted back to South Africa, where he has spent three years in exile.

A spokesman for former president Marc Ravalomanana says officials in Madagascar closed the airspace to prevent him from returning home. He had vowed to return, despite a threat that he would be arrested.

Ravalomanana, accompanied by his wife, left Johannesburg airport early Saturday for the trip to Madagascar. Before leaving, Ravalomanana said that he was certain he would not be turned away like last year.

Security forces in Madagascar had threatened to arrest him if he returns to the Indian Ocean nation off Africa's southeastern coast.

Ravalomanana was sentenced in absentia to life in prison for the deaths of dozens of opposition protesters killed by his presidential security team in 2009, ahead of the coup that toppled him.

Last September, Ravalomanana agreed to a plan for restoring democracy to his island nation that left the military-backed President Andry Rajoelina, the coup leader, in charge until elections are held.

Under the proposal, Ravalomanana could return to Madagascar.

The deal was brokered during months-long negotiations by the Southern African Development Community. It had been urging Madagascar to allow the return of Ravalomanana as part of a plan to restore democracy.