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Exiled leader denied return to Madagascar

From Nkepile Mabuse, CNN
updated 9:42 AM EST, Sat January 21, 2012
Marc Ravalomanana, seen here in February 2011, was ousted as Madagascar's president in a March 2009 coup.
Marc Ravalomanana, seen here in February 2011, was ousted as Madagascar's president in a March 2009 coup.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Marc Ravalomanana's plane has arrived in South Africa after being turned away
  • Ravalomanana was ousted from Madagascar in 2009 following a military-backed coup
  • He has been living in exile in South Africa
  • Efforts have been under way to restore peace to the Indian Ocean island

Johannesburg (CNN) -- A plane carrying Madagascar's ousted leader Marc Ravalomanana was turned away from Madagascan airspace Saturday as he tried to return from exile, his spokesman and the airline said.

Ravalomanana, who had been in South Africa in exile, took off from Johannesburg Saturday morning in what was his second bid to return to his home country.

But Ravalomanana's spokesman Patrick Gearing, in South Africa, told CNN that the civil aviation authorities on the Indian Ocean island had closed the airspace, refusing the plane permission to land.

By Saturday afternoon the plane -- and Ravalomanana -- were back in South Africa, said Gearing.

Ravalomanana was ousted in March 2009 through a coup backed by the military, which handed power to current President Andry Rajoelina, the youthful former mayor of Antananarivo.

Shortly before boarding his flight to the capital, Antananarivo, Ravalomanana said that he had just spoken with the Madagascan Prime Minister Omer Beriziky, who told him "everything was OK."

Speaking before the flight took off, Gearing said: "He has no control over what will happen to him when he arrives but he is prepared to face whatever comes his way."

Ravalomanana's previous unsuccessful effort to return last year came to an end in Johannesburg, when the airline he was using was told it wouldn't be allowed to land if he was on board.

Madagascar is in the process of implementing a peace agreement facilitated by a regional body, the South African Development Community.

Gearing says Ravalomanana met with South Africa's President Jacob Zuma Friday to thank him for letting him stay following his ouster.

U.S. and South African diplomatic sources tell CNN his return would be catastrophic for any peace process going forward.

CNN's Pierre Meilhan contributed to this report.

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