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18 Mar 2009 14:29
Zambia on Wednesday became the first African Union (AU) member to call for Madagascar’s suspension from the bloc after Marc Ravalomanana was toppled as president of the Indian Ocean island.
Foreign Minister Kabinga Pande said Madagascar should also be suspended from the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) and called on the international community to take action against the new government, headed by Ravalomanana’s arch rival Andry Rajoelina.
“We call for the immediate suspension of membership of Madagascar in SADC and the AU and for the return to constitutional order within the shortest possible period,” Pande told a press conference.
Pande said Zambia rejected the “unconstitutional” change of government, although Madagascar’s constitutional high court has now confirmed Rajoelina as the acting president of the republic, according to a document obtained by AFP.
South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said on Tuesday that SADC’s security organ, which includes his country as well as Swaziland and Angola, would meet in the Swazi capital Mbabane on Thursday to review the situation.
Motlanthe said SADC would “never countenance the unconstitutional transfer of power from a democratically-elected government”.
The AU’s peace and security council is scheduled to discuss the situation in Madagascar at a meeting at its Addis Ababa headquarters on Thursday.
Fight against poverty the priority
Meanwhile, Rajoelina, vowed on Wednesday in his first speech since being swept to power by the army that fighting poverty on the island would be his priority.
“I will do everything I can to ensure that Madagascans are lifted out of poverty,” Rajoelina told about 15 000 supporters during a rally in the capital Antananarivo.
“We will do everything we can to ensure that the standard of living of Madagascans starts improving as soon as possible,” he added.
The 34-year-old leader vowed to bring food prices down, notably rice.
One of the most symbolic measures he announced during his speech was his decision to sell outgoing president Ravalomanana’s plane.
“For the good of the Madagascan people, I will sell Force One,” he said, adding that the money would be used “to establish a hospital for the people’s health, which is a higher priority”.
Force One is a Boeing 737 that Ravalomanana recently purchased from Disney World for $60-million.
The plane had become a symbol of the regime’s greed in the eyes of many Madagascans and the circumstances under which Ravalomanana used some state funds to buy it had delayed the delivery of donor money.
Rajoelina’s three-month campaign to oust Ravalomanana articulated some of the main grievances on an island where three quarters of the population live on less than two dollars a day and launched fierce personal attacks on his rival, describing him as a dictator starving his people.—Sapa-AFP
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