Madagascar denies approving exiled leader's return

AFP
Madagascar's ousted leader Marc Ravalomanana addresses the press on January 21, 2012 as he leaves O. R Tambo international Airport in Johannesburg
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Madagascar's ousted leader Marc Ravalomanana addresses the press on January 21, 2012 as he leaves O. R Tambo international Airport in Johannesburg (AFP Photo/-)

Antananarivo (AFP) - Madagascar on Thursday denied saying ousted leader Marc Ravalomanana was free to come home after five years in exile, claiming hackers may have issued a bogus government statement.

The apparently fake foreign ministry statement said that the 64-year-old Ravalomanana was "free to return to Madagascar" given "the evolution of the current political situation".

"We took this decision to restore the political situation on the island," said the statement, which was sent to major news outlets earlier Thursday.

But the ministry's communications director Hanitriniaina Razafindramboa said it was a fake.

"It is not our statement," she told AFP by phone.

"It is possible that someone has hacked my email account."

Ravalomanana, who lives in exile in South Africa, has made several failed attempts to return to the Indian Ocean island which he fled following a coup led by rival Andry Rajoelina in 2009.

He was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment over the killing of 36 protesters by presidential guards during the unrest.

Ravalomanana's wife Lalao was allowed to return in March last year to care for her ailing mother, only to launch an unsuccessful run for the presidency.

The exiled former leader said earlier this month he was ready to return to Madagascar and defend himself in court.

Hery Rajaonarimampianina, a onetime finance minister backed by Rajoelina, was declared Madagascar's new president in January this year, a month after elections to restore democracy in the island nation.

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