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Originally published Friday, April 29, 2011 at 2:02 AM

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Sabotage claim as Madagascar chief's plane returns

A plane carrying Madagascar's coup leader on an official visit to Zambia returned safely to Madagascar's capital shortly after takeoff after experiencing technical problems blamed on sabotage, authorities on this Indian Ocean island said.

Associated Press

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ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar —

A plane carrying Madagascar's coup leader on an official visit to Zambia returned safely to Madagascar's capital shortly after takeoff after experiencing technical problems blamed on sabotage, authorities on this Indian Ocean island said.

According to a statement from Andry Rajoelina's government late Thursday, preliminary checks after Wednesday's aborted flight to Zambia led pilots and investigators to conclude the jet was "the target of sabotage." The government said a thorough investigation will be made.

Rajoelina, addressing reporters before flying to Zambia aboard another plane Friday morning, did not say whether he believed he had been targeted by saboteurs. But he said suspicions were raised before takeoff.

"The crew indicated they had found irregularities, in particular signs someone had been on the plane before we left," he said. He said the plane was searched and nothing was found, so takeoff proceeded.

"As soon as we were in the air, the pilots indicated there was a new technical problem," he said.

Last month, a bomb exploded under Rajoelina's car as it drove along his regular route from his office to his home. He was unhurt, and the car was not damaged enough to prevent it from continuing to his home. Rajoelina told reporters Friday that the investigation into the bombing was not yet concluded.

Rajoelina took power in Madagascar with military backing in 2009 after democratically elected president Marc Ravalomanana lost crucial support among top military leaders after his forces fired on anti-government protesters, killing at least 25.

Political violence has flared periodically since Rajoelina's takeover.

Rajoelina trip to Zambia to meet that country's president is among tours he's been making of the region in an attempt to repair his relationship with leaders who have expressed impatience with his disregard for their attempts to restore democracy in Madagascar.

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