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mardi 15 février 2011

Madagascar's exiled former leader to return - party

* Ravalomanana to return on Saturday, allies say

* Justice minister says ex leader should be arrested

* SADC confident of way out of two-year crisis

By Alain Iloniaina

ANTANANARIVO, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Madagascar's exiled former leader Marc Ravalomanana plans to return home on Saturday to help thrash out a solution to a leadership row triggered by his overthrow two years ago, his party said on Tuesday.

It is less than two weeks since Southern Africa mediators said they were confident a new road map they offered to the country's bitter political rivals could break the deadlock.

"He is not coming back to create trouble but to find a solution to the crisis," Mamy Rakotoarivelo, head of Ravalomanana's political movement, told Reuters.

A spokesman for President Andry Rajoelina's office dismissed talk of Ravalomanana's return as a rumour aimed at dividing popular opinion. He has been living in exile in South Africa since he was toppled from power in March 2009 following weeks of street protests spearheaded by Rajoelina.

The Southern African Development Community road map recommended recognising Rajoelina as interim president, indicating a shift in the SADC's stance. Regional powers originally branded the takeover a coup, backing Ravalomanana's position that he had been unconstitutionally ejected. Francophone African countries appeared more sympathetic to former disc-jockey Rajoelina.

Ravalomanana's allies say they could accept the SADC deal providing an interim government is built on consensus and that key cabinet posts, electoral commission jobs and parliamentary seats are divided up fairly.

These conditions have been supported by the United States, France, the European Union and African Union, but have scuppered earlier power-sharing efforts.

Some political analysts have warned that Ravalomanana's return would risk polarising Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island, and re-ignite political tension ahead of elections planned in the coming months.

Justice Minister Christine Razanamahasoa said Ravalomanana, who was convicted of abuse of office in absentia, should be arrested and jailed if he returns to the Indian Ocean island.

"The legal system is independent of the political negotiations. It has already handed down its verdicts ... and these must be carried out. The arrest warrant must be carried out," Razanamahasoa told Reuters.

(Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Mark Heinrich)