A South African Airways flight carrying Marc Ravalomanana, the exiled former leader of Madagascar, back to his home country was forced to return to Johannesburg today after officials in Madagascar closed the nation’s airspace, the New York Times reported.
Ravalomanana has been living in South Africa since being overthrown in a military-backed coup three years ago, Voice of America reported. Recent negotiations with political parties in Madagascar seemed to indicate that he would be allowed to return today, though government officials said they would arrest him on arrival, the Times reported.
More from GlobalPost: Madagascar: Former president plans return, risks arrest
According to Voice of America:
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.
Madagascar's government denied that it had said the plane could not land, Reuters reported. It did, however, instruct a number of the country’s airports to shut down today.
“All the talk yesterday evening was that his return was good and they were going to arrest him,” Patrick Gearing, a Ravalomanana spokesman, told the Times. “I don’t know why the change of heart now.”
Another Ravalomanana spokesman, Peter Sullivan, told Reuters that the former president would continue to press for his return. "There will be further negotiations and he has every confidence that (South African) President Jacob Zuma will use his influence to help resolve this matter,” he said.