February 19, 2011 / 9:36 AM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 2-Ex-president's return thwarted in Madagascar

* Supporters say Ravalomanana holds key to ending crisis

* Madagascar tells airline he is persona non grata

* Ravalomanana risked arrest, life imprisonment at home

(Recasts with clash, changes dateline, pvs JOHANNESBURG)

ANTANANARIVO, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Madagascar’s security forces fired teargas to disperse crowds of supporters of exiled leader Marc Ravalomanana camped out near the capital’s international airport on Saturday and expecting his return.

A Reuters witness said riot police broke up the crowd at nightfall. Earlier, Ravalomanana was prevented from boarding a flight out of South Africa, where he has been exiled for two years.

The former president said the Madagascar government had blocked his departure. The military-backed overthrow of Ravalomanana, which followed weeks of street protests against his perceived autocratic style of leadership, plunged the nickel- and cobalt- producing island into political and economic turmoil.

“The country is still in crisis and the situation is getting worse,” Ravalomanana supporter Dina Ramarolahy said. “Ravalomanana holds the key to get the country out of this crisis which has engulfed the country.”

Political analysts had said Ravalomanana’s return might escalate tension. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has acted as a regional mediator, raised concern that Ravalomanana’s decision to return would hit diplomatic efforts to break the impasse.

The self-made millionaire has said he has no intention of creating trouble and wants a solution to the leadership deadlock.

Incumbent President Andry Rajoelina has warned Ravalomanana he would be arrested and made to serve a life jail sentence that was handed down in absentia for the killing of 30 protesters by Ravalomanana’s presidential guard. [ID:nLDE71G0S1]

“The (airline) say they have received this note from Madagascar civil aviation saying that I am a non grata person,” Ravalomanana told reporters at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo airport.

“I am very, very disappointed right now ... If the (airline) received the notice there is nothing you can do.”

Ravalomanana could not immediately say what he would do next.

Madagascar had urged South African Airways to block the self-made millionaire’s departure for security reasons, a senior civil aviation source said on Friday. [ID:nLDE71H1L8]

Additional reporting by Spokes Mashiyane in Johannesburg; writing by Richard Lough; editing by Michael Roddy

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