Madagascar's ex-president returns home from exile

24th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Madagascar's former president Didier Ratsiraka on Thursday arrived home from France where he was exiled for nine years following a bitter election dispute, an AFP correspondent reported.

Ratsiraka returned three days after a unity government was unveiled with the aim of ending a protracted political crisis that has seen the island nation isolated by regional blocs and the international community.

His return offers hope of ending the turmoil, especially after two main opposition groups led by two other former presidents agreed to join the unity government unveiled Monday by consensus Prime Minister Omer Beriziky.

The 75-year-old Ratsiraka has however declined to sign a deal mediated by regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community, to resolve the crisis.

Ratsiraka, who was accompanied by his wife and two daughters and welcomed by aides at the capital's airport, kissed the ground on his arrival.

Hundreds of supporters gathered outside the airport dressed in red, the colour of his political party, and waving flags to welcome him home.

Ratsiraka was president from 1975 to 1991 and again from 1996 to 2002.

He fled to France following a prolonged post-election dispute which sparked violence and chaos when he refused to concede defeat to Marc Ravalomanana.

The impasse split the vast island nation in two -- with two capitals, two governments, and a divided army -- until Ravalomanana was officially proclaimed president in May 2002.

In 2003, Ratsiraka was sentenced in absentia to hard labour, five years in jail for threatening state security and 10 years for embezzling public funds.

However, current president Andry Rajoelina, who ousted Ravalomanana in an army-backed coup in March 2009, had said several times that Ratsiraka was free to return home.

© 2011 AFP

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