Wife of jailed Madagascar ex-leader calls on country to 'rise up'

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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) - The wife of Madagascar's ex-leader Marc Ravalomanana on Friday called for the crisis-wracked island nation to "rise up" after her husband was detained upon a controversial return from exile.

"Rise up because you are Malagasy and it is your right. Free Madagascar from its torture," Lalao Ravalomanana said in a radio broadcast.

His supporters plan a mass protest in Antananarivo on Saturday.

Police have given "no authorisation for such a demonstration", the capital's police chief Gabriel Andriatsiferana told AFP.

After visiting her husband, who is effectively being held under house arrest in Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) in the north of the Indian Ocean island, his wife said he was being held in undignified conditions.

"It's not fair, it's illegal and it's not dignified," she said.

Guy Rivo Randrianarisoa, a spokesman for Ravalomanana, told AFP the former president was shut in a bedroom with a door that could only be opened from the outside.

He said he had been refused a television and a telephone and claimed he was not even allowed a pen.

Randrianarisoa said the family hoped to negotiate his release so that he could live in the family's residence in the capital, Antananarivo.


- 'The people's choice' -


Marc Ravalomanana, who was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment with hard labour, slipped back into Madagascar on Monday, five years after a military coup and two months of violent protests forced him to flee first to Swaziland and then to South Africa.

On his return he was promptly arrested by a phalanx of heavily armed special forces, but not before telling supporters that he still held "lots of power" and that his presidential successor is "not the people's choice".

Former finance minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina became president in January.

The African Union has described Ravalomanana's comments as an "unacceptable provocation," and warned that his stance could undermine successful 2013 elections.

The vote was designed to resolve a crisis that brought international isolation and trashed the Malagasy economy.

"Calling into question the legitimacy of Malagasy institutions, resulting from free and democratic elections recognised by the international community, is an unacceptable provocation," the AU statement said.

Ravalomanana's ouster, exile and fierce personal rivalry with his immediate successor Andry Rajoelina polarised the Indian Ocean island nation, which is highly dependent on coffee, vanilla and other agricultural products.

The military remains largely beyond civilian control and the coup-prone country of 20 million people lost $8 billion (6.2 billion euros) and tens of thousands of jobs as a result of the most recent crisis.

Since the election, international donors have signalled their willingness to do business with the new government, an important step if the island is to realise untapped gas and oil wealth.

The United States recently allowed Madagascar back in to a lucrative trade pact that gives preferential access to US markets.

Madagascar had on several occasions blocked efforts by Ravalomanana to return home.

In 2012, a plane he was travelling on was turned back in mid-flight as he headed for Madagascar.