Madagascar detains ex-leader on return from exile

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Marc Ravalomanana (C), former president of Madagascar who was in exile in South Africa since 2009, is greeted by supporters while returning to his home in Antananarivo on October 13, 2014

Marc Ravalomanana (C), former president of Madagascar who was in exile in South Africa since 2009, is greeted by supporters while returning to his home in Antananarivo on October 13, 2014 (AFP Photo/Rijasolo)

Antananarivo (AFP) - Madagascan ex-president Marc Ravalomanana, who returned home unexpectedly from exile on Monday, was immediately picked up and taken to an undisclosed location "for his safety", President Hery Rajaonarimampianina said.

"Mr Marc Ravalomanana has not been arrested. He has not been imprisoned. He has been taken to safety against all kinds of threats," the president told reporters, without stating where the former leader was taken.

He said the move was for Ravalomanana's protection and lamented that the former leader of the Indian Ocean island nation "didn't see fit to advise the authorities or ask the administration for any authorisation whatsoever".

The 64-year-old former president, who lived in exile in South Africa since his ouster in 2009, made an impromptu address to supporters outside his home in the capital Antananarivo just after his surprise return.

An hour later, the street was blocked off and about 40 special forces arrived to take him away.

"Don't ask me what I did to get here," he had told the crowd, noting however that he had told foreign diplomats of his plan. "I came on my own."

"I was the current president when I left the country. Now I am back and the Madagascan people know what must be done," he said.

Ravalomanana, who owns businesses in Madagascar, added: "I am here to support peace and democracy, but more urgent is the fight against poverty."

Aides said earlier that he was taken to an "unknown destination".

The special forces "were heavily armed with automatic rifles and were wearing balaclavas to disguise their identities," his son Tojo said in a statement.

"They did not say what they were charging him with or where they were taking him."

The former leader was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment with hard labour in 2010 for the death of 30 opposition protesters killed by his presidential guard in February 2009.

- 'Roadmap' for return -

Ravalomanana first fled to Swaziland after his ouster in 2009 by his rival Andry Rajoelina, and then settled in the South African capital Pretoria.

Human rights lawyer Brian Currin, his special envoy in South Africa, earlier called the apparent arrest "a total disgrace and reminiscent of actions of the coup regime."

Madagascar has on several occasions blocked efforts by Ravalomanana to return home since Rajoelina seized power.

In 2012, a plane carrying Ravalomanana was turned back in mid-flight when he tried to return home.

Two years ago, regional mediators charted a "roadmap" with Madagascar's main political parties calling for Ravalomanana and other exiles to be allowed to return unconditionally.

"We've been trying since the beginning of this year to negotiate his return, which is entrenched in the roadmap," Currin said.

He blamed the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for doing "very little to ensure full implementation of the roadmap, including his return – more than 10 months since democratic elections."

Rajaonarimampianina -- a Rajoelina ally -- won the December 2013 elections.

A spokesman for the South African department of international relations, Clayson Monyela, said he had no details of Ravalomanana's return.

Political stability is slowly returning to Madagascar after Rajoelina relinquished power to the elected new president.

The country was also reinstated into SADC and the African Union after being suspended over its chaotic political affairs.

The international community had pressured Ravalomanana not to run in the latest polls to avoid fresh instability.