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Oil report

Madagascar's Rajoelina invited to U.N. meeting

* U.N. says invite has no bearing on legitimacy

* Opposition plans another protest on Saturday

Richard Lough

ANTANANARIVO, Sept 17 (Reuters) - The United Nations has invited Madagascar’s diplomatically isolated president, Andry Rajoelina, to next week’s General Assembly meeting, his office said on Thursday.

The invitation has provoked speculation in the Indian Ocean island’s capital Antananarivo that the United Nations is softening its stance on Africa’s youngest leader.

African nations and foreign powers were quick to reject a transitional government, created unilaterally by Rajoelina this month, saying it broke a power-sharing deal signed in August.

“The president has been invited to New York to attend the General Assembly meeting on climate change,” Annik Rajaona, spokeswoman for the president’s office, told Reuters.

The oil and mineral-producing island has experienced months of political turmoil after 35-year-old Rajoelina led violent street protests culminating in a military-backed coup in March that toppled former leader Marc Ravalomanana.

The United Nations joined the African Union and the European Union in branding the power-grab unconstitutional and called for Madagascar’s leaders to form a consensus government ahead of fresh elections in late 2010.

But after Rajoelina, Ravalomanana and former presidents Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy failed to agree on who should hold key posts, Rajoelina ordered his appointed prime minister to form a government that he insists is cross-party.

“Of course this (invite) shows a certain recognition that we have put in place a government of national unity,” Rajaona said.

A U.N. source in Antananarivo said the invitation and the question of Rajoelina’s legitimacy were two separate issues.

Opposition parties on the world’s fourth largest island -- endowed with oil, nickel, cobalt, uranium, gold and coal -- say they remain united in their determination to pick a consensus government.

Fetison Andrianirina, a senior Ravalomanana ally, said foreign embassies in Madagascar had been unequivocal in their refusal to recognise the government.

“In our eyes, his participation (in the U.N. meeting) does not equate recognition,” he said.

Last weekend saw the return of street violence after riot police clashed with opposition supporters, some of whom torched vehicles and trashed phone booths.

The opposition says it plans another rally this Saturday. (Additional reporting by Alain Iloniaina; editing by Daniel Wallis and Robin Pomeroy)

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