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25.03.2009 Madagascar

Ex-Madagascar leader to run in July elections: source

Ex-Madagascar leader to run in July elections: source

ANTANANARIVO (AFP) - Madagascar's ex-president Didier Ratsiraka will stand in July's presidential elections, a source close to the former leader said on Saturday, two days after he returned from an 11-year exile in France.

The 76-year-old "sent a proxy to declare his candidacy officially" for the elections on July 24, said the source.

Nicknamed "Deba", the Malagasy word for "boss" or "bad guy", Ratsiraka was in power from 1975 to 1993 and again from 1997 to 2002.

He fled to France following a post-election dispute which sparked violence and chaos when he refused to concede defeat to Marc Ravalomanana.

The impasse split the vast island nation in two -- with two capitals, two governments, and a divided army -- until Ravalomanana was officially proclaimed president in May 2002.

"Didier Ratsiraka told me yesterday that he was going to announce his candidacy today (Saturday) without explaining why," said Ange Andrianarisoa, leader of the former president's political movement.

Candidates for the poll must declare themselves before Sunday, with a special election court ruling on their eligibility.

Madagascar's election law states a candidate must have lived in the country for six months before the vote -- which might still scupper Ratsiraka's chances.

The elections are supposed to draw a line under the island's current political difficulties after current president Andry Rajoelina seized power in an army-backed coup in March 2009.

In 2003, Ratsiraka was sentenced in absentia to hard labour, five years in jail for threatening state security and 10 years for embezzling public funds.

But Rajoelina has said several times that Ratsiraka was free to return home.

In an interview with AFP on Thursday, Ratsiraka said that "everything must be discussed ... without taboo", adding this included postponing the election.

"We must put an end to this vicious cycle and this crisis that has lasted too long, in which the people are the main victims, must end in one way or another," he said.