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Madagascar's Exiled President Blocked from Returning Home

Former Madagascar leader Marc Ravalomanana and his wife Lalao (R) hold plane tickets after checking in at the O.R Tambo airport in Johannesburg, January 21, 2012.

A plane carrying the exiled former leader of Madagascar was forced to return to Johannesburg after authorities in his homeland closed the country's air space.

Marc Ravalomanana, who has spent the past three years in South Africa, said he wanted to return home in order to implement a plan to restore democracy in the Indian Ocean island nation. But security forces in Madagascar had warned he would be arrested.

Ravalomanana, accompanied by his wife, left Johannesburg airport early Saturday for the trip to Madagascar. Before leaving, Ravalomanana said that he was certain he would not be turned away like last year.

Security forces in Madagascar had threatened to arrest him if he returns to the Indian Ocean nation off Africa's southeastern coast.

Ravalomanana was sentenced in absentia to life in prison for the deaths of dozens of opposition protesters killed by his presidential security team in 2009, ahead of the coup that toppled him.

Last September, Ravalomanana agreed to a plan for restoring democracy to his island nation that left the military-backed President Andry Rajoelina, the coup leader, in charge until elections are held.

Under the proposal, Ravalomanana could return to Madagascar.

The deal was brokered during months-long negotiations by the Southern African Development Community. It had been urging Madagascar to allow the return of Ravalomanana as part of a plan to restore democracy.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.