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Exiled leader is refused reentry

MADAGASCAR'S new president yesterday refused to allow ousted leader Marc Ravalomanana to return from exile, potentially derailing talks to end the island's political crisis.

Andry Rajoelina issued his edict a day after Ravalomanana accused him of being in league with former colonial power France to enslave the Malagasy population.

Cross-party political talks, closely watched by foreign powers and investors in the Indian Ocean island's mineral and hydrocarbon sectors, were set to resume late yesterday.

Allies of Ravalomanana - who is in exile in South Africa - said they would boycott further negotiations if discussions did not begin paving the way for his return.

"The High Transitional Authority blocks the return of the former president, Marc Ravalomanana, to the country," Rajoelina said in Antananarivo, the capital, at the opening day of separate talks intended to heal deep divisions within the army.

"We will not sign any agreement allowing for his return."

Ravalomanana accused France of supporting Madagascar's coup leaders, whom he described as bandits.

Ravalomanana gave up power in March under intense pressure from Rajoelina's popular movement and dissident troops.

The crisis has wrecked the US$390 million-a-year tourism sector.

A deal to end the chaos appeared close last Friday when the UN envoy said the feuding parties had agreed to form an inclusive government.

But the following day one delegation quit the table and Ravalomanana's team said they would follow suit if there was no agreement on his return.

"What's going on, it's economic, it's geo-strategic," said Lydie Boka of the risk consultancy, StrategieCo.

Madagascar gained independence from France in 1960.


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