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11 Mar 2009 11:24
Madagascar opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, in conflict with President Marc Ravalomanana since the start of the year, will boycott talks to resolve the crisis, a spokesperson said on Wednesday.
“It’s a categoric refusal,” spokesperson Augustin Andriamananoro told AFP, referring to the two-day conference which was due to start on Thursday.
He added that it was not the right time for the talks and that church leaders who were acting as mediators lacked the credibility to organise the discussions. He called again on the president to resign.
Madagascar’s army chief warned on Tuesday his troops would wrest control if political leaders failed to resolve the worsening crisis in the Indian Ocean Island within 72 hours.
More than 100 people have been killed, the vast majority at the hands of the security forces, in a wave of opposition protests against the rule of Ravalomanana since the start of the year.
Chief of staff Edmond Rasolofomahandry called on political groups and leaders across Madagascan society, as well as foreign envoys, to work for a solution.
Without a breakthrough, Rasolofomahandry said his forces “promised not to take sides,” but he stressed that they were ready to step in if necessary.
“If a solution is not found after the 72 hours, then we, the armed forces, we will take responsibility for running national affairs and protect the national interest and unity,” he said.
The army flexed its muscles hours earlier by forcing the resignation of Defence Minister Mamy Ranaivoniarivo.
A military committee had demanded he step down for ordering soldiers to put down anti-government protests.
Army officers have increasingly expressed frustration at the government’s use of troops to suppress the protests, led by Rajoelina, who was sacked as the capital’s mayor earlier this year.
Last weekend, soldiers at a key army base near the capital warned they would refuse any further orders to act against the almost daily demonstrations, but denied their decision amounted to munity.
Rajoelina evaded arrest by the security forces last week and took shelter in the French embassy, after a request from the United Nations.
In recent days, security forces have thwarted several attempts by opposition supporters to hold anti-Ravalomanana rallies.
The United States State Department has said it is allowing non-essential staff to leave its embassy as it issued a new travel warning over “escalating civil unrest”.
Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest countries and Rajoelina’s criticism of the regime’s economic and social policies has struck a chord with large portions of the population.—Sapa-AFP
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