Madagascar's Exiled President Confident Of Return

Published January 21, 2012 7:45AM (EST)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Madagascar's ousted and exiled president collected his boarding pass for a flight back to his Indian Ocean homeland Saturday, saying he was confident his second attempt to return would be successful.

"It's finished now, we have the boarding passes," Marc Ravalomanana said after he, his wife and two aides completed that formality at the Johannesburg airport 90 minutes before their South African Airways flight was scheduled to depart. His wife, Lalao, gave a subdued thumbs up as they headed to a car to take them to a VIP lounge to complete the departure process.

Security officials in Madagascar have said Ravalomanana will be arrested if he returns. He says arresting him would be unlawful and would destabilize Madagascar at a delicate time in efforts to restore democracy three years after he was ousted in a military-backed coup.

Ravalomanana, exiled in South Africa since the coup, tried to return last year. Then, he was stopped at the Johannesburg airport after aviation authorities in Madagascar wrote to say he was not welcome.

Following the coup, Ravalomanana was convicted in absentia of conspiracy to commit murder in a case related to the turmoil during his overthrow. The court was appointed by Andry Rajoelina, the populist former disc jockey who ousted him. Ravalomanana called the tribunal illegitimate.

Late Friday, South Africa's 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 airport about Fransman's comments, Ravalomanana said, "We are mature."

By Salon Staff

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