March 20, 2010 / 11:48 AM / in 9 years

Madagascar leader hardens stance after AU sanctions

* Ravalomanana to be pursued for corruption, high treason

* Ratsiraka, Zafy barred from returning to Madagascar

# Ban on any opposition protests



By Alain Iloniaina

ANTANANARIVO, March 20 (Reuters) - The president of Madagascar has rowed back on concessions made to political rivals in power-sharing talks last year, after the African Union imposed sanctions on the Indian Ocean island. [ID:nLDE62G21P]

In a statement released on Friday evening, Madagascar’s transitional authority said the "humiliating" sanctions showed the 53-member organisation had no willingness to recognise a legitimate popular movement trying to bring about change.

President Andry Rajoelina took power in March 2009 with the backing of the military after weeks of popular street protests against then-President Marc Ravalomanana — a leader Rajoelina accused of running the country like his own private company.

Ever since then, the African Union and donor countries have been pushing Rajoelina to form a unity government with the three main opposition movements — each headed by former presidents — and engineer a speedy return to constitutional order.

A power-sharing deal between Rajoelina, Ravalomanana and two former presidents was struck in Mozambique last year, but persistent wrangling over who should get the top government posts meant the agreement was never implemented.

The AU ran out of patience on Wednesday and slapped travel bans and asset freezes on Rajoelina and 108 backers of his transitional authority, which plans to hold a parliamentary election in May and then prepare for a presidential poll.

The AU left the door open for Rajoelina to suggest new solutions to end the political crisis, but the measures announced on Friday appear to have closed that route for now.



TRAVEL BANS, ASSET FREEZES

In light of the AU sanctions, the transitional authority said it would now pursue Ravalomanana, who is living in exile in South Africa, for corruption, threatening state security and plotting high treason with foreign factions.

It said Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy, two former presidents also out of the country at the moment, would be barred from returning to the world’s fourth largest island.

The leaders of the former presidents’ three opposition movements within Madagascar will be prevented from leaving the island, their assets will be frozen and no protests threatening to destabilise the country would be authorised, it said.

In another step aimed at Ravalomanana, Rajoelina’s transitional authority said it would no longer consider an amnesty for those accused of high treason and other crimes.

At the height of the protests against Ravalomanana in early 2009, security forces opened fire on demonstrators outside the presidential palace, killing at least 25 people. About 125 people died during the weeks of streets protests.

In a report published on Friday, the International Crisis Group think-tank said it was time the international community stopped pushing for a power-sharing agreement and instead help Madagascar come up with a new constitution and hold elections.

"The protagonists appear more concerned about securing the spoils of power than finding a solution in the national interest," said Charlotte Larbuisson, ICG’s southern Africa analyst. "The lack of political will to compromise has made genuine power-sharing virtually impossible." (Writing by David Clarke; Editing by Janet Lawrence)






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