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Arrest of Exiled Former President Triggers Political Crisis in Madagascar

The ex-leader, who fled the country in 2009 following a coup d’etat, was detained by government forces Sunday just hours after he arrived on a flight from South Africa.
October 15, 2014, 8:41pm
Photo Schalk van Zuydam/AP

Marc Ravalomanana, the former president of Madagascar who fled the country in 2009 following a coup d'etat, landed Sunday night in the island's capital, Antananarivo, after five years in exile. Hours after disembarking the private aircraft that carried him home from South Africa, the 64-year-old Ravalomanana was picked up by armed government forces, who dispersed crowds of his supporters with tear gas.

Elected in 2002, Ravalomanana left office seven years later when thousands of citizens took to the streets to denounce his lavish lifestyle, leading to bloody riots and clashes. His presidential palace guards killed 30 people on February 7, 2009 when they opened fire on a crowd gathered outside the building. Ravalomanana was later sentenced, in absentia, to life in prison for his role in the deaths.

Prior to his detention Sunday, Ravalomanana held a press conference outside his home and declared: "I am back in my country."

Current president Hery Rajaonarimampianina, whose political party is opposed to Ravalomanana's, published an official statement on the government's website denying reports of an arrest.

"Mr. Marc Ravalomanana has not been arrested. He has not been imprisoned. He has been taken to safety against all kinds of threats," the statement said.

According to sources at Madagascan newspaper La Tribune de Diego, the former president has allegedly been placed under house arrest in Antsiranana, a city at the northern tip of the island off the southeast coast of Africa.

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Following Ravalomanana's detention, 21 government officials announced plans Tuesday to leave the ruling majority party and join the opposition.

The government in Madagascar is a fragile coalition between the current president's MAPAR party and the Ravalomanana Movement. Radio France International described the mass defection as "a political alliance going up in flames."

Madagascar has suffered chronic political instability since achieving independence from France in 1960, enduring several tumultuous leadership changes and persistent corruption prior to Rajaonarimampianina's election in 2013.

Ravalomanana had previously attempted to return to Madagascar in January 2012, but his commercial plane was forced back to South Africa when his political opponents blocked its landing.