Madagascar leaders in talks deadlock

Madagascar’s two main political rivals locked horns Thursday over the formation of a unity government at the start of a second day of talks on the political crisis sparked by last year’s coup.

Strongman Andry Rajoelina, the former mayor of the capital who seized power with the army’s backing in March 2009, insisted the talks in South Africa had “little chance” of success.

“I think there is little chance of setting up a government of national unity and solutions must be sought elsewhere,” he told reporters as negotiations broke off in the early hours of Thursday with no apparent progress.

“There is a gap between reality and the agreement that has already been established,” Rajoelina said.

But ousted president Marc Ravalomanana — now living in exile in South Africa — insisted he was not to blame for the deadlock and that the talks were still alive.

“I enter the second day of peace talks with no pre-conditions, except those needed to bring about free and fair elections in Madagascar,” he said in a statement.

“I am prepared to stay in Pretoria as long as it takes to reach a deal acceptable to all.”

The talks set to resume later on Thursday are the latest in a series of meetings between the Ravalomanana and Rajoelina factions, and former presidents Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy.

The four political leaders in November signed a power-sharing accord that was later spurned by Rajoelina, prompting the African Union to slap travel and economic bans on him and scores of his backers last month.

Former colonial power France and the 15-member Southern African Development Community are mediating the talks aimed at setting up a unity government that would lead the vast Indian Ocean island toward fresh elections.

Under the previous agreement, Rajoelina was to retain the presidency but with two “co-presidents” from the other political movements.

The four rivals also agreed to establish a transitional institution ahead of elections.

But Rajoelina has since spurned the accords, sacked a compromise prime minister and announced the country would hold elections.

Disagreements between the four leaders on the allocation of seats in the agreed unity government also wrecked the implementation of their agreements.

“I am ready to form a government with the other political forces, including the former president and even the other presidents, to head toward elections,” Rajoelina, a 35-year-old disc jockey, said.

But he also said: “There are demands that I cannot accept from the former president” Ravalomanana.

Rajoelina said legislative elections should be held within several months and a presidential election in November. –Sapa-AFP

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