/ 26 February 2010

Madagascar leader calls for talks after sanctions threat

Madagascar President Andy Rajoelina has called a meeting next week with leading opposition groups to try to resolve a year-long political crisis before the African Union imposes sanctions.

While one opposition party cautiously welcomed the move, it was unclear whether Rajoelina would be able to rally enough cross-party support to strike a deal and head off the punitive measures.

The AU said last week it would slap travel bans and asset freezes on Madagascar’s leadership on March 17 if the government had still not complied with power-sharing agreements struck last year in Mozambique and Ethiopia.

Former president Marc Ravalomanana quit last March after weeks of protests and violence and asked the military to form a government. The top brass refused and appointed Rajoelina to head a transition government.

The change was later denounced as a coup by international donors, some emergency aid was frozen, and Rajoelina has been gradually ostracised diplomatically for failing to form a unity government in agreement with the opposition.

“We are convinced that the Malagasy alone will find a solution,” Rajoelina said in a television address late on Thursday, referring to Madagascar’s citizens. “We will consider steps to take and gather views from the majority so we can come up with a political structure.”

He said the conference would take place on March 4 and 5 and include the authorities, the main opposition movements, as well as civil-society organisations.

“We have received the message from the international community about sanctions. But we think it is time for the Malagasy to assume their responsibilities,” he said.

Rajoelina agreed a power-sharing deal with three former presidents in Maputo, Mozambique, in August but they failed to reach a consensus on senior government positions. An extension was signed in Addis Ababa in November but the rifts remained.

Ravalomanana opened Madagascar’s doors to foreign companies interested in the Indian Ocean island’s oil and minerals. Overseas investment surged to $1,47-billion in 2008 from $86-million in 2005, but inflows collapsed during the crisis.

A close ally of Ravalomanana, Fetison Andrianirina, welcomed Rajoelina’s conference plan, saying it was an attempt to find a solution. But he said his camp remained wary as the move strayed from the Maputo and Addis Ababa agreements and they should be discussing how to put those deals in place.

In another attempt to sway international views, Rajoelina this week appointed Hyppolite Rarison Ramaroson, the navy Admiral who handed him power in March, as his foreign minister.

Ramaroson told reporters: “There was no coup d’etat in Madagascar on March 17 2009. I am witness to that. It was more of a self-putsch. Marc Ravalomanana overthrew himself.” — Reuters