Ex-Madagascar leader ends 11-year exile
18 April 2013, 15:33
Antananarivo - Madagascar's former president Didier
Ratsiraka returned home from France on Thursday, ending an 11-year exile that
followed a bitter election dispute.
The 76-year-old ex-leader expressed a "sense of relief
and happiness" to be back.
"It has been 11 years that I have not been here," he
said in brief remarks to reporters at the airport before being driven away to
attend a national reconciliation conference.
The conference is being organised by the Ecumenical Council
of the Christian churches of Madagascar to boost efforts to end the protracted
political deadlock on the island.
Ratsiraka was president from 1975 to 1991 and again from
1996 to 2002, when he fled to France following a 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
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.
Ratsiraka had briefly returned to Madagascar in November
2011, but left after just two weeks.
Nicknamed "deba", Malagasy word for the boss or
the bad guy, Ratsiraka also carried the moniker "Red Admiral".
The churches conference was called to help establish
dialogue among political parties and ease tension ahead of the July
presidential elections amid hopes that the ballot will end the long-running
crisis and restore the island to constitutional order.