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AU suspends Madagascar over 'coup'

Aaron Maasho

Madagascar was suspended from the African Union and threatened with sanctions on Friday, days after the army-backed toppling of the president.

Madagascar was suspended from the African Union (AU) and threatened with sanctions on Friday, days after the army-backed toppling of the president, as the new government insisted no coup had taken place.

The AU’s Peace and Security Council, meeting in the Ethiopian capital, announced it had suspended the Indian Ocean island state because the takeover was “unconstitutional”, a senior official said.

The suspension poses a problem for the African bloc because Madagascar is due to hold its next summit meeting, in July.

“The PSC has decided ... to suspend the participation of Madagascar from bodies and organs of the AU,” said Bruno Nongoma Zidouemba, the Burkina Faso ambassador, after chairing a two-hour meeting of the council.

“The council is of the opinion that what occurred in Madagascar is an unconstitutional change of government,” added the diplomat.

Zidouemba said that failing a return to constitutional politics “very quickly, we will consider taking sanctions against the authorities in Madagascar.

“It can be interpreted as a coup.”

Jeffrey Mugumyia, the director of the AU’s Peace and Security unit, said: “If they don’t comply it will affect the hosting of the summit. The sooner they comply the better. But anything can happen in the meantime.”

The African bloc’s move follows the European Union’s branding the takeover a coup d’etat on Thursday and Washington called it “undemocratic”.

Germany on Friday joined the condemnation of Marc Ravalomanana’s toppling as president and called for a return to democracy.

“This change of power was brought about by street protests and is not a democratic way to change a government,” a spokesperson for Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told a regular briefing.

“We expect from the new authorities a return to Madagascar’s Constitution and a return to democratic order in the country as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson, Jens Ploetner, said.

But Madagascar’s acting prime minister rejected the coup claims, and called on the EU to reconsider its position.

“Maybe the European Union’s vision is a bit blurred. We’re ready to explain,” said Monja Roindefo. “After that we’ll ask them to reconsider their position.

“We’ll explain the real situation. Maybe the way Madagascar acts is not very clear. Things can be a bit specific which may be difficult to follow in every detail.”

The Czech EU presidency said on Thursday the EU considers the army-backed ouster of Ravalomanana, re-elected for a second term in 2006, to be “a coup d’etat ... not a democratic election”.

But Roindefo said, “We don’t think that this was a coup d’etat.

“It’s the direct expression of democracy, when representative democracy does not express itself through the institutions.”

The Southern African Development Community, whose 15 members include Madagascar, also refused to recognise Andry Rajoelina despite his confirmation as new president by a constitutional court a day earlier.

Roindefo was speaking as the AU’s meeting began in Addis Ababa.

He said the growing list of countries and institutions condemning the takeover “do not bother us much”.

“If they haven’t understood the process, they may well react. But if they stick to their line after we have spoken, it will be annoying.”

Rajoelina suspended Parliament on Thursday, a few days after soldiers backed by tanks stormed Ravalomanana’s offices, forced him to step down and handed power over to the opposition leader.

Berlin said it would hold Rajoelina’s self-styled transition government responsible for any further violence or loss of life.—Sapa-AFP

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