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Former Madagascar President Calls for AU to Help Lift Restrictions

A crowd of supporters of Madagascar's ousted president, Marc Ravalomanana, wave banners and wear T-shirts with his name, at the airport in Antananarivo, February 21, 2011

Madagascar's ousted president, Marc Ravalomanana, is calling for the African Union to pressure the transitional government of Andry Rajoelina to allow him to return home. The Rajoelina government banned him from returning Saturday to enter into what Ravalomanana called a dialogue aimed at ending the country's two-year-old political crisis.

Singing, waving banners and wearing T-shirts bearing Ravalomanana’s name, people arrived at the airport before dawn to see the former president return home on an afternoon flight after two years exile in South Africa. Ravalomanana was not allowed to board a flight, though, from Johannesburg, following orders from Madagascar’s aviation authorities.

Lining the streets for miles and bordered by a large security presence, the jubilant crowd cheered at arriving planes hours after Ravalomanana had failed to turn up. Security forces used tear gas to disperse the disappointed crowds at nightfall.

Ravalomanana press aide Peter Sullivan, who took the Johannesburg flight, read a statement from the former president denouncing the transitional government’s ban on him returning.

"This is an abuse of power by the illegal regime in Madagascar and proof of their persistent, unilateral decisions to refuse me entry to my own country. I am doing what the Malagasy people want me to do; to go back to Madagascar to start Malagasy-to-Malagasy dialogue, in order to restore peace to my beloved Madagascar."

A statement from the Ravalomanana camp Monday said, "The international community and particularly the African Union ... are urged to demand the immediate and unconditional lifting of the ban preventing Marc Ravalomanana from returning to Madagascar."

Ravalomanana wants to join talks with international mediators from the Southern African Development Community this week in Madagascar. The country has been mired in a political crisis since Rajoelina, with some military help, ousted Ravalomanana in March 2009.

The Ravalomanana statement read Saturday by Sullivan said the large turnout at the airport shows an end to the crisis can not be found if the former president is excluded from negotiations.

"I will talk to anyone and meet anyone to bring about a broad and inclusive national consensus on a way forward in my country. There can be no solution to the crisis in Madagascar that does not involve me. The reality in Madagascar has been proven today by the large crowds on the ground in support of my return. I will find a way to get back to Madagascar. My staff are working on every alternate means of getting me back to my country”"

A SADC mediation proposal bans Ravalomanana from returning to Madagascar until political stability is restored, and it names Rajoelina as president of another transitional government until elections are held this year.

While members of the government and the SADC team have yet to say whether Ravalomanana will succeed in being allowing back, all agree that Saturday’s show of support means he is a political force that cannot be ignored as talks aimed at restoring democracy continue.