The United States is suspending all assistance other than humanitarian aid to Madagascar, and the State Department described the installation of a new government headed by political opposition leader Andry Rajoelina as "tantamount to a coup d'etat."
State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said the Obama administration "condemns the process" by which President Marc Ravalomanana was forced to resign and was replaced by his political opposition with the support of Madagascar's armed forces.
The move was "undemocratic and contrary to the rule of law," Wood said in a March 20 statement. "In view of these developments, the United States is moving to suspend all non-humanitarian assistance to Madagascar."
Ravalomanana was elected December 3, 2006, to a five-year term heading the executive branch of a democratic government that also includes a parliament and an independent judiciary. Madagascar, which gained its independence from France in 1960, has experienced many periods of political instability in its national history.
Wood called on the people of Madagascar to "immediately undertake a democratic, consensual process to restore constitutional governance, culminating in free, fair and peaceful elections."
Rajoelina was declared president after Ravalomanana was forced to turn power over to the military March 17. The move followed weeks of political unrest during which at least 135 people were killed.
In response, the African Union (AU) announced March 20 that it has suspended Madagascar from the organization. Burkina Faso Ambassador to the AU Bruno Nongoma Zidouemba, who chairs the AU's Peace and Security Council, said the council "is of the opinion that what occurred in Madagascar is an unconstitutional change of government."
Norway announced it has frozen its aid and said other countries would be taking similar action.
The State Department's acting deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid previously had urged Madagascar's political leaders and supporters to resolve their differences through dialogue.
In a March 13 statement, Duguid called for a national conference under United Nations auspices with representation from all sides to help resolve the political crisis, which he said had "entered a dangerous phase."
"Resolution of the difficult issues at stake is a matter for the Malagasy people," Duguid said. "Most importantly, this crisis must be resolved in a manner that is consistent with the constitution and democratic values. Extra-legal assumption of power by civilians or the military is unacceptable."