Madagascar ex-president Ratsiraka returns from exile

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Madagascar's former President Didier Ratsiraka makes an address soon after he returned home to Antananarivo, Madagascar's capital, on 24 November 2011Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Didier Ratsiraka told his supporters there was a need for reconciliation on the Indian Ocean island

Madagascar's former President, Didier Ratsiraka, has returned to the island after nine years in exile in France.

Mr Ratsiraka, who seized power as a young naval officer in 1975, governed Madagascar until 1991 and again from 1996 to 2002.

He left the country after losing disputed elections.

His return comes three days after a unity government was unveiled to try to end the political deadlock in Madagascar.

In 2003, a Madagascan court sentenced Mr Ratsiraka in his absence to 10 years' hard labour for corruption. However, the current President, Andry Rajoelina, who seized power two years ago, has said that the 75 year old is free to return home.

The former president has refused to sign the deal brokered by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) which aims to resolve Madagascar's long-running political crisis.

Journalist Tim Healy told the BBC hundreds of supporters gathered at the airport in the capital, Antananarivo, to welcome Mr Ratsiraka.

In a speech, he said he was opposed to the unity government as he believes it is not consensual.

"There should be a conference not just by the four main political leaders, but all the other parties and civil society groups must be involved," AFP news agency quotes Mr Ratsiraka as saying.

"There's need for reconciliation. I will shake everybody's hands in the overall interest of the nation. The government says it wants to reach out, I'm reaching out in return."

But Mr Rajoelina, who is unelected, has already refused the proposal of the so-called "conference of four presidents", reports Mr Healy.