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01 Jan 2002 00:00
MARC Ravalomanana was sworn in Monday as president of Madagascar in front of a vast crowd, even as his rivals declared his investiture illegal and the international community hedged its support.
A huge cheer went up from flag-waving supporters at Antananarivo’s Mahamasina stadium as Ravalomanana took the oath for the Indian Ocean island state’s highest office just after 11am (0800 GMT).
“I have been elected president of all the people of Madagascar, including those who did not vote for me,” Ravalomanana said in an address during the ceremony, which was attended by some 200 000 people.
The camp of his rival, defeated president Didier Ratsiraka, however, immediately rejected the investiture, which followed a ruling by the High Constitutional Court (HCC) last week that Ravalomanana had won a hotly disputed first round of presidential elections in December.
“Everyone understands that I firmly challenge the legality of this and refute this auto-investiture,” Ratsiraka said in a statement, demanding his rival agree to a transitional process paving the way for fresh elections.
“The show organised in Antananarivo today has given a major blow to national unity and above all to the process of national reconciliation.”
The international community has started moving towards recognising Ravalomanana, with former colonial power France, members of the European Union and the United States—Madagascar’s main donors—sending consular officials to the swearing-in ceremony, but stopping short of dispatching ambassadors.
A French foreign ministry representative said in Paris that by its presence at the investiture, France “marks its confidence in the wisdom of the people of Madagascar.”
?France remains persuaded,” the representative added, “that only an agreement between the parties and a national reconciliation will make it possible to resolve the current crisis and to preserve the integrity and the unity of the country.”
It believed a reconciliation process which began in Dakar last month was the best route for attempting to achieve unity on the deeply-divided island.
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who led efforts last month to reconcile the two men, said in a statement he had “consulted both parties, who are in agreement to take part” in a second round of talks in Dakar on May 13 and 14.
“They will come with a number of their supporters and other personalities,” he said.
However, Ravalomanana said soon after being sworn in he knew nothing of the planned meeting.
“I am not aware of it,” he said at the town hall, where a reception was being held to mark his investiture.
His diplomatic adviser, Mamy Andriamasomanana, confirmed the new president had yet to be advised of the planned meeting.
“For the moment we are waiting, we are discussing it.
The High Constitutional Court said last week a recount had given Ravalomanana more than 51% of ballots cast—an absolute majority—against around 35% for long-time ruler Ratsiraka.
Ratsiraka has refused to accept the result of the recount, and the governors of four provinces loyal to the former ruler unilaterally declared independence after Ravalomanana was declared the winner of the vote.
Apparently referring to the governors’ declarations, Ravalomanana said in his presidential address that there was “only one nationality and one language in Madagascar. Those who want to divide the nation will be excluded.”
He also promised to help restore the economy of the island, which has been badly affected by the ongoing strife. Meanwhile, Ratsiraka dug in his heels even further and convened a special session of parliament for Monday to coincide with his arch-foe’s swearing-in.
The National Assembly and Senate have been urged to meet at Mahajanga, the capital of one of the provinces that has broken away since Ravalomanana was declared president a week ago. The meeting would debate the “restoration of social peace and national concord”, Ratsiraka said in a decree. ? Sapa-AFP
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