Monday, June 15, 2009

Madagascar's president says Gaddafi supports him

By Alain Iloniaina - ANTANANARIVO, May 19 (Reuters)

Madagascar's new president said on Tuesday he had won the backing of the African Union's Chairman, Muammar Gaddafi, and would now re-write the constitution and hold presidential elections.

Andry Rajoelina, who returned in bullish mood from a three-day visit to Libya, has fought to gain international recognition after regional blocs and foreign leaders branded his March seizure of power a coup.

"As far as the African Union Chairman is concerned, it is clear there is nothing more to discuss on the legitimacy of my power as leader of Madagascar," he told reporters on his return to the capital Antananarivo.

The African Union and Southern African Development Community suspended Madagascar soon after Rajoelina ousted former leader Marc Ravalomanana with the help of dissident soldiers.

Several donors including the International Monetary Fund, the United States and Norway have frozen non-emergency aid.

"(Gaddafi) is asking himself why some states continue to unsettle Madagascar when the documents proving my leadership as fact are clear," he said.

It was unclear from Rajoelina's remarks whether Gaddafi, who seized power in Libya in a bloodless military coup in 1969, had agreed to recognise his presidency formally. Reports in Libya's state media on Monday suggested the AU still refused to recognise Rajoelina as the Indian Ocean island's head of state.

MIXED SIGNALS

The political crisis has hammered the country's $390 million-a-year tourism sector, hurt textiles exports and worried foreign companies investing in the island's booming oil and mineral sectors.

Ravalomanana, who has been in exile in southern Africa since he stepped down, insists he remains the country's legitimate leader and says he will return to Madagascar within weeks.

The island's new government said an arrest warrant for Ravalomanana remains in place.
The international community wants elections this year but Rajoelina has given mixed signals over their timing and whether he will stand as candidate. At 34, Rajoelina is too young to stand according to Madagascar's existing constitution.

Last week, foreign diplomats said Rajoelina had assured them he would not run. His office denied the claim.

A day later Rajoelina announced he was seeking a pact with the country's leading political groups to bar former heads of state, including himself, from contesting the poll.

Analysts said Rajoelina's offer was intended to be declined, as some former leaders would want to stand.

"Should they reject his 'offer' and decide to contest the presidency, he (Rajoelina) would have no choice but to stand -- but he could claim to do so reluctantly," said Edward George of the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Rajoelina said he expected Gaddafi to make a formal announcement clarifying his stance soon. The new government's original plan was to revise the constitution this year and hold presidential elections in October 2010.

"The path is set for the preparation of elections. That is what the people want. It is equally the advice of the Africa Union's chairman," Rajoelina said.