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Page last updated at 16:11 GMT, Wednesday, 3 June 2009 17:11 UK

Madagascar sentences ex-president

Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana gives a speech in Antananarivo on 15 March 2009
Marc Ravalomanana was removed from power after street protests

A Madagascar court has sentenced former leader Marc Ravalomanana in absentia to four years in jail for alleged abuse of office, a minister says.

Justice Minister Christine Razanamahasoa told reporters it was for buying a presidential jet. The court also fined Mr Ravalomanana $70m (£42m).

He is currently in South Africa seeking international support for a return to the Indian Ocean island.

He lost power in March amid protests by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina.

The army-backed takeover has been widely condemned as a coup d'etat.

"Ravalomanana mixed public interests with his personal interests," Ms Razanamahasoa said.

'Extravagance'

Mr Ravalomanana, a self-made millionaire, had said the $60m (£37m) jet was meant to enable him to travel more efficiently and to be able to secure more aid and foreign investment.

Andry Rajoelina (centre) arrives at a rally in Antananarivo, Madagascar, 17 March 2009
Andry Rajoelina (C) accuses the man he deposed of misusing public funds

But critics saw it as an unnecessary extravagance and Mr Rajoelina has repeatedly used the purchase to denounce Mr Ravalomanana, accusing him of mismanaging public funds.

Mr Ravalomanana's former finance and budget minister, Haja Razafinjatovo, was given a similar sentence by the court in the capital, Antananarivo.

The BBC's Christina Corbett in Antananarivo says the court's verdict makes the prospect of any return to Madagascar for the deposed leader very unlikely.

Mr Ravalomanana has accused the island's former colonial power, France, of backing Mr Rajoelina.

He has not been internationally recognised as president, but appears emboldened after a return from recent trips to Libya and Senegal, our correspondent says.

The unrest earlier this year led to the deaths of more than 100 people and crippled the island's tourist industry.

Fragile negotiations between Madagascar's political parties have been taking place in the capital, our reporter says.

But the UN-backed talks have failed to reach any agreement on a consensus government to rule in Madagascar until presidential elections are held.



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