msnbc.com news services
updated 1/21/2012 7:43:16 AM ET 2012-01-21T12:43:16

The spokesman for Madagascar's toppled president said the leader's attempt to end his exile in South Africa was thwarted in the air when his plane was forced to turn back after authorities on the Indian Ocean island closed their airspace to prevent his return.

The commercial plane carrying Marc Ravalomanana landed back in Johannesburg Saturday just after 2 p.m. (6 a.m. ET), about the time it had been expected to reach Madagascar's capital.

"Madagascar civil aviation has turned the plane around and it's been diverted to Pemba in Mozambique. It doesn't have enough fuel to return all the way. It will refuel there and then return to Johannesburg," a spokesman for the ousted president told Reuters earlier Saturday in Johannesburg.

But reporters on board later said it did not stop to refuel in Mozambique, as Peter Mann, the spokesman, had said would happen.

Ravalomanana has been exiled in South Africa since being toppled in 2009.

In Madagascar, a government minister said Ravalomanana's rival had closed the country's main airports to prevent Ravalomanana's return.

The minister said the reasons were unknown.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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