Renegade Madagascan officers to stay the course

Mutinous Madagascan soldiers who declared a coup three days ago maintained their stand on Saturday, insisting they wanted a put an end to the country’s long drawn out crisis triggered by a 2009 putsch.

“At the moment the best solution is to not reconcile with the authorities. The essential thing is to change what is wrong in the country,” said Noel Rakotonandrasana, one of the leaders of about 20 dissident officers.

The army chief Andre Ndriarijaona held talks Friday with the group holed up at a military barracks outside the capital Antananarivo and urged for calm.

Wednesday’s coup declaration has not been supported by the rest of the army and business in Antananarivo has gone on uninterrupted since.

Madagascar has been mired in a political crisis since March 2009 when then opposition leader Andry Rajoelina toppled president Marc Ravalomanana with the army’s support.

General Rakotonandrasana himself played a critical role in the coup following which he was named the armed forces minister. But he was later dismissed from the post on suspicion of plotting against the current regime.

Pursue bid ‘to the end’
“We should opt for the creation of a committee to steer towards the right direction and good governance,” the general said by phone.

He vowed they would pursue their bid “to the end”.

The United States condemned the take-over bid and urged dialogue.

“The United States strongly condemns all efforts to take or maintain power through the use of force,” the US embassy here said in a statement.

“We have consistently called for a consensual, inclusive political process to resolve the ongoing crisis through constitutional means and have called on all parties to refrain from actions that might result in violence.”

The coup attempt came as Madagascans voted on Wednesday in a constitutional referendum that Rajoelina’s regime is hoping will help resolve the Indian Ocean island’s crisis.

The referendum is part of an agreement between the regime and scores of smaller parties which also calls for municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Saturday at a square in the capital to protest against the minicipal elections set for December, prompting security forces to fire teargas to break up the gathering.

The protest was called by the Madagascan Mayors’ Association, whose leader the security forces arrested as they dispersed the crowd, an Agence France-Presse correspondent witnessed.

Rajoelina’s main opponents, including Rajoelina and two other former presidents, called for a boycott of the referendum, accusing him of reneging on previous agreements.

Rajoelina has been isolated by the international community and the African Union suspended it and imposed sanctions on him and his backers for failing to honour accords to end the crisis.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, warned that Madagascar was in a “severe danger of social explosion”.

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