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Madagascar only state not to address UN assembly

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Madagascar on Wednesday became the only country not to address this year’s U.N. General Assembly gathering, electing not to speak to avoid a dispute with other African nations over the government’s legitimacy.

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya addresses a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York June 30, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The decision followed an incident a year ago when African states blocked Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina from addressing the assembly, saying his rise to power through a military coup made him illegitimate.

Madagascar’s U.N. mission circulated other missions at the weekend, saying that although Foreign Minister Hippolyte Rarison Ramaroson had come to New York he would not address the assembly to “avoid unnecessary and unproductive discussions.”

Diplomats said, however, that the final decision had only been taken on Wednesday, the day the minister -- who had been invited by the United Nations to take part in the assembly -- had been due to speak. The 10-day assembly ended on Wednesday.

“We didn’t want a repeat of that,” Rarison Ramaroson told Reuters in an interview, referring to last year’s confused incident in which African countries marshaled 23 votes to four to prevent Rajoelina speaking. Most of the 192 U.N. member states abstained.

“It’s not worth squabbling in this General Assembly,” the minister said. “That’s why we decided not to speak ... No one told us to pull out.”

Rarison Ramaroson said that instead he had focused on contacting other delegations, speaking with a number of African, European and Latin American officials “to explain what’s happened and what’s going to happen in Madagascar.”

In March of last year, dissident troops backing Rajoelina forced then President Marc Ravalomanana into exile from Madagascar, a large island off the coast of East Africa. The takeover was branded a coup by regional neighbors and donors froze aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Last month, Rajoelina, a 36-year-old former disk jockey, signed a deal with dozens of minor parties aimed at ending the country’s protracted political crisis, but it was rejected by main opposition leaders.

Under government plans, a referendum on a new constitution will be held on November 17, a legislative election on March 16 next year and a presidential ballot on May 4.