African Union suspends Madagascar over 'coup'

The African Union suspended Madagascar today, the strongest condemnation yet by the international community after opposition leader Andry Rajoelina took power with the support of the army.

The AU decision echoed criticism by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the European Union and United States. Weeks of political unrest in Madagascar have killed at least 135 people, devastated the economy and worried foreign investors.



"The council is of the opinion that what occurred in Madagascar enters the definition of unconstitutional change of government," said Burkina Faso's Ambassador Bruno Nongoma Zidouemba, chairman of the AU's peace and security council.



"The council then decided to suspend the participation of Madagascar to the bodies and organs of the AU."



Madagascar's elected president, Marc Ravalomanana, was forced out on Tuesday after weeks of opposition protests that won the support of the military. Zidouemba said it amounted to a civilian and military coup on the giant Indian Ocean island.



"It can be interpreted as a coup," he said. "In this case, we have a case where a civilian and military coup has taken place in Madagascar."



The AU said the country's new administration had six months to call an election, as provided for by the Malagasy constitution. Zidouemba said the pan-African body would meet at a later date to discuss the possibility of imposing sanctions.



At 34, Rajoelina is Africa's newest and youngest president. He will be inaugurated on Saturday.



Ravalomanana handed power to the military, and they in turn appointed Rajoelina. Sacked as mayor of Antananarivo, Rajoelina is nicknamed "TGV" after the fast French train because of his rapid-fire personality.



The southern African grouping SADC has refused to recognise Rajoelina while Norway, which gives about $14m in annual aid, has frozen funding. Late yesterday, the EU Presidency also denounced what had happened as a coup d'etat.

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