* Plane returns to South Africa after mid-air divert
* Ravalomanana allies quit government in protest
* Ousted leader still hopes to return
By Ed Stoddard and Alain Iloniaina
JOHANNESBURG/ANTANANARIVO, Jan 21 (Reuters) -
Madagascar's exiled former leader Marc Ravalomanana was back
where he started on Saturday after a plane flying him home was
ordered to turn around mid-flight and returned to Johannesburg's
main international airport.
Ravalomanana's second failed bid in less than a year to
return could have ended in his arrest and would have stoked
political tensions on the impoverished Indian Ocean island. He
has been in self-imposed exile for almost 3 years since his
toppling in a military coup
Madagascar's government rejected accusations it had denied
the plane permission to land.
However, instructions from the government for a number of
the island's airports to be shut down, including Antananrivo,
during the afternoon are detailed on the website of the Agency
for Aerial Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar, an
African traffic control agency.
The former leader's political allies said they were pulling
out of the country's consensus government in protest.
"In light of this act of provocation, we have decided to
suspend our involvement in the government. We will not take part
in cabinet meetings," said Mamy Rakotoarivelo, head of
Ravalomanana's movement and president of the national
In Johannesburg, a spokesman travelling with
Ravalomanana said the ousted leader still hoped to return.
"There will be further negotiations and he has every
confidence that (South African) President Jacob Zuma will use
his influence to help resolve this matter," spokesman Peter
Sullivan told Reuters by telephone.
Thousands of his supporters, many of whom wore t-shirts
adorned with his portrait, had streamed towards the airport in
Madagascar's capital and military police had formed a cordon at
the airport's entrance, blocking their access to the terminal.
The supporters broke out into song after news of his turn
around seeped out into the crowd.
"We're hugely disappointed. What's happening underlines the
lack of political goodwill from Rajoelina. What's the point in
being a part of this transition," supporter Michel Damamy told
Reuters as rain began to fall and the crowd slowly dispersed.
Ravalomanana was sentenced in absentia to life in prison for
the killings of demonstrators by elite troops in the run-up to
The dairy tycoon's return was the subject of heated debate
and was a major stumbling block in negotiations over a political
road map that ushered in a new interim government.
The current leader, Andry Rajoelina, warned Ravalomanana's
presence in the world's fourth largest island risked raising
tensions. A senior cabinet minister said in September that
Ravalomanana would be arrested on arrival.
ACTIVE ARREST WARRANT
If he and when he does return he could still face arrest.
The country's chief prosecutor said an old arrest warrant
Among Madagascar's wealthiest individuals, Ravalomanana
built up his fortune in a classic rags to riches tale.
Selling yoghurt on Antananarivo's streets in his early
twenties, he soon secured a World Bank loan with the help of a
Protestant church to set up his own factory.
His critics accused Ravalomanana, who was mayor of
Antananarivo before holding the top office, of abusing his
political power to build up his empire.
Famed for its leaping lemurs and mist-filled rain forests,
Madagascar's tourism industry has suffered badly from the
political turmoil. Foreign investors who have been eying its
oil, gold and chrome have also been wary of committing to the
(Additional reporting by Shafiek Tassiem; Writing by Ed
Stoddard and Richard Lough; Editing by Sophie Hares)