March 20, 2009 / 11:22 AM / 9 years ago

AU suspends Madagascar, U.S. to halt aid

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - The African Union suspended Madagascar on Friday and the United States said it planned to halt all but emergency aid, increasing pressure after the opposition took power with the support of the army.

A homeless boy plays with an orange in front of makes-shift huts in Nosybe outside Antananarivo, March 19, 2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina was declared president of the Indian Ocean island on Tuesday after weeks of political unrest that have killed at least 135 people, devastated the economy and worried foreign investors.

“A civilian and military coup has taken place in Madagascar,” said Burkina Faso’s Ambassador Bruno Nongoma Zidouemba, chairman of the AU’s peace and security council.

He said the council “decided to suspend the participation of Madagascar to the bodies and organs of the AU.”

Madagascar’s elected president, Marc Ravalomanana, was forced out on Tuesday after opposition protests that won the support of the military. Ravalomanana’s foes had accused him of autocratic rule and failing to address poverty.

The United States said it regarded the takeover as a coup.

“In view of these developments, the United States is moving to suspend all non-humanitarian assistance to Madagascar,” U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.

The AU said the new administration had six months to call an election, as provided for by the constitution. Rajoelina has set a 24-month transition. Zidouemba said the pan-African body would meet at a later date to discuss possible sanctions.

SANCTIONS

South African Defense Minister Charles Nqakula said the regional SADC’s security troika had discussed the possibility of removing Madagascar from the group and would urge members to impose sanctions on the country at a meeting later this month.

Roindefo Monja, prime minister in Rajoelina’s transitional administration, told Reuters the new government would plead its case before the AU and the international community.

“What can they say about a fight for liberty and democracy? What crime has been committed?” he said by telephone.

“We will explain to the whole world our cause ... The people demanded liberty and the military rallied to the popular movement but it did not seize power ... We are confident the international community will understand,” he said.

Monja added that he did not expect donor nations to cut aid, saying they were interested in Madagascar’s long term stability.

Norway, which gives about $14 million a year in aid, has frozen funding and has said other nations would follow suit.

Andy Rajoelina, Madagascar's newly appointed president, speaks to the media at his residence outside Antananarivo March 18 ,2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

In a statement, the European Union’s Czech presidency said the bloc was gravely concerned by Ravalomanana’s ouster and condemned “all attempts to seize power through undemocratic measures.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy termed the takeover a coup and called for quick elections.

“It’s the only way to come out of the crisis,” he said after a summit of EU leaders. Sarkozy warned Madagascar’s new leaders not to harm the former president.

Ravalomanana handed power to the military, and they in turn appointed Rajoelina. Sacked as the mayor of Antananarivo, Rajoelina is nicknamed “TGV” after the fast French train because of his charismatic, rapid-fire personality.

At 34, Rajoelina is Africa’s newest and youngest president. He will be inaugurated on Saturday.

He had accused Ravalomanana of graft and of losing touch with the majority of civilians who live on less than $2 a day.

After recent coups in Mauritania and Guinea as well as the killing of Guinea-Bissau’s leader, events in Madagascar raise doubts over the durability of democracies elsewhere in Africa.

After three years without coups, there have been four violent changes of power on the continent in eight months. That has given cautious investors another reason to scale back commitments as the global economic crisis bites.

Additional reporting by Tafessa Jarra and Barry Malone in Addis Ababa, Estelle Shirbon in Brussels and Serena Chaudhry in Johannesburg; Writing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; Editing by Jon Boyle

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