Exiled Madagascan chief goes home

AFP-JIJI

Former Madagascan President Didier Ratsiraka returned home from France on Thursday, ending an 11-year exile that followed a bitter election dispute.

The 76-year-old is taking part in a national reconciliation conference ahead of polls set for July that aim to break the island’s long-running political crisis.

“Everything must be discussed. Everything can be discussed, without taboo,” he said in an interview, stressing this includes postponement of the election. “We must put an end to this vicious cycle. And this crisis that has lasted too long — in which the people are the first victims — must end in one way or another.”

Ratsiraka would not say if he plans to be a candidate in the polls scheduled for July 24. “This debate does not have to take place,” he said.

The conference is being organized by the Ecumenical Council of the Christian churches of Madagascar to boost efforts to end the four-year deadlock in the country.

Ratsiraka was president from 1975 to 1991 and again from 1996 to 2002, when he fled to France following a postelection dispute that sparked violence and chaos after 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 labor, five years in jail for threatening state security and 10 years for embezzling public funds. However, incumbent President Andry Rajoelina, who took power in an army-backed coup in March 2009, had said several times that Ratsiraka was free to return home.