Envoys to boycott Madagascar head's installation

Major foreign nations looked set to boycott the installation of Madagascar's new president, Andry Rajoelina, today in further international censure of what they call his unconstitutional rise to power.

The 34-year-old former opposition leader took power this week after leading months of street protests against former President Marc Ravalomanana on the Indian Ocean island.

Ravalomanana handed over to the military, who in turn conferred power on Rajoelina to be president.

Foreign powers have reacted angrily to the nature of Rajoelina's rise. He is six years too young to be president, according to Madagascar's constitution, and is taking the presidency without any form of popular vote.

The African Union (AU) has suspended Madagascar, and major Western powers including the United States and the European Union have called for a quick election after what they term a coup d'etat by Rajoelina's movement.

The United States also said yesterday that it would suspend all non-humanitarian aid to the country.

A number of envoys from major countries planned to boycott Saturday's installation ceremony.

"The ambassadors to the US, France, Germany and the European Union have told us they won't be attending," said an aide to Ravalomanana, who stepped down on Tuesday after months of opposition street protests.

US ambassador Niels Marquardt was quoted in the local Midi Madagascar newspaper as saying he did not expect to attend.

"As long as Madagascar remains in an unconstitutional situation and ... there prevails a climate of threats, intimidation and violence, the capacity for the international community to help the country will be reduced," he said.

Stung by international disapproval, Rajoelina's camp says it is unfair to criticise a movement that fought for liberty and democracy on behalf of Madagascar's 20 million people.

Rajoelina has widespread popular support, as well as army backing.

He terms his government a transitional administration and says an election will be held within 24 months. But foreign powers, including former colonial ruler and main aid donor France, want a vote much sooner.