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Sunday, 23 June, 2002, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
Madagascar rival leader returns
Didier Ratsiraka
Ratsiraka has called for fresh elections
Madagscar's long-time president, Didier Ratsiraka, has insisted he is the rightful leader, after returning to the divided island following several days abroad.

Mr Ratsiraka, who left Madagascar on a surprise trip to Paris on 14 June, also denied allegations that he hired mercenaries to kill Marc Ravalomanana - the winner of last December's election who has installed himself as president of the country.


Until there is a legal successor at the head of the country, I remain president

Didier Ratsiraka
A spokesman for Mr Ravalomanana warned that Mr Ratsiraka would be arrested and put on trial.

Madagascar has been embroiled in crisis since Mr Ratsiraka, who ruled the island for over 20 years, refused to accept Mr Ravalomanana's victory.

Mr Ravalomana has gradually gained control of most of the island from forces loyal to Mr Ratsiraka.

Ratsiraka defiant

Speaking in his stronghold of Tamatave, Mr Ratsiraka told reporters that "until there is a legal successor at the head of the country, I remain president".

Marc Ravalomanana
Ravalomanana controls most of the island

Tamatave is the capital city of one of just two secessionist provinces which remain in Mr Ratsiraka's hands.

The presidential rival flew back to Madagscar from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, where the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) met on Friday to try to resolve the crisis.

Mr Ratsiraka accepted an OAU proposal to hold fresh elections, but Mr Ravalomanana rejected the plan.

The veteran leader said it would be "very difficult to re-establish peace and reconciliation at the moment as there is no political will on either side".

'Mercenaries' turned back

Mr Ratsiraka denied claims by Mr Ravalomanana's aides that he had hired two teams of mercenaries to assassinate Mr Ravalomanana at independence day celebrations next Wednesday.


Mr Ratsiraka is a criminal and we will try to arrest him

Ravalomanana aide

Last Wednesday, a Madagascar-bound plane carrying 12 Frenchmen was turned back from Tanzania after French authorities said the men had "suspect intentions".

On Friday, Mr Ravalomanana's camp said Mr Ratsiraka had also sent 36 mercenaries from South Africa to kill their leader.

But Mr Ratsiraka dismissed the allegations, saying if he had wanted to hire mercenaries, he would have done it "with a lot more discretion".

On Sunday, Raymond Ramandimbilahatra, a spokesman for Mr Ravalomanana, said Mr Ratsiraka was "a criminal and we will try to arrest him. There will be a trial," AFP reported.

State radio said two politicians loyal to Mr Ratsiraka had been arrested as pro-Ravalomanana forces continued to consolidate areas under their control.


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22 Jun 02 | Africa
21 Jun 02 | Africa
20 Jun 02 | Africa
20 Jun 02 | Africa
17 Jun 02 | Africa
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