Southern Africa rejects Madagascar's new leader

Other News Materials 19 March 2009 19:54 (UTC +04:00)

Southern Africa will not recognize Madagascar's new leader, an army-backed politician who ousted an elected president, key regional leaders said Thursday, AP reported.

After a mini-summit about the Indian Ocean island, in Swaziland on Thursday, the main decision-making committee of the Southern African Development Community also urged the African Union and the international community not to recognize Andry Rajoelina as president and called for a return to "democratic and constitutional rule in the shortest time possible."

After months of street protests, Marc Ravalomanana resigned as Madagascar's president Tuesday and placed power in the hands of the military. Within hours, the military announced it was making opposition leader Andry Rajoelina president.

The regional leaders meeting Thursday said that if Rajoelina refuses to relinquish power to Ravalomanana, the bloc would recommend imposing sanctions.

Madagascar is a member of the regional bloc. Thursday's meeting, chaired by Swazi King Mswati III, included Mozambican President Armando Guebuza, South African Defense Minister Charles Nqakula, and the bloc's executive secretary, Tomaz Salomao.

Earlier Thursday, Zambian Foreign Affairs Minister Kabinga Pande called Rajoelina's coming to power in Madagascar "a setback and danger to the entrenchment of democracy and constitutional rule on the continent which should not be allowed to take root."

In a statement in government papers Thursday, Pande also called for the suspension of Madagascar from both the Southern African Development Community and the African Union. The AU was to have held its annual meeting in Madagascar later this year.

An AU committee was to meet Friday, to examine whether the events in Madagascar constituted a coup, which would lead to Madagascar's automatic suspension.

Rajoelina has accused his ousted rival of misspending public funds and undermining democracy, and said Wednesday his rise was a victory for "true democracy" over dictatorship. He had promised new elections within two years.

France, Madagascar's former colonial power and current main donor, said that two years was "too long" to wait for elections.

Ravalomanana had accused Rajoelina of seeking power by unconstitutional means, since under the constitution the opposition leader was too young to become president.

Some of Rajoelina's anti-government protests had led to deadly clashes. The deaths of at least 25 civilians last month cost Ravalomanana the backing of many in the military, and a mutiny spread and gained popular support.