Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Madagascar's Rival Leaders in New Talks Over Political Settlement

Madagascar's rival leaders in new talks

April 29, 2010 - 5:59AM

(AFP) Madagascar's strongman leader, Andry Rajoelina, said on Wednesday he is willing to share his government with rival leaders as fresh talks began aimed at ending the country's political crisis.

Leaders of Madagascar's rival political factions met on Wednesday in a new bid to forge a deal on a unity government to lead the island nation out of the crisis sparked when Rajoelina overthrew former President Marc Ravalomanana in March 2009.

The talks in the South African capital are the latest in a series of meetings between the Ravalomanana and Rajoelina factions and former presidents Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy.

I am ready to form a government with the other political forces, including the former president and even the other presidents, to head toward elections," Rajoelina told AFP.

But the former mayor of Madagascar's capital said he wants to keep his current prime minister until fresh elections can be held.

"Prime Minister Camille Vital is not a politician, he is a military officer and their motto is to serve. So they will serve the population and the Malagasy people until the elections. It is just the government that we are opening," he said.

Rajoelina said legislative elections should be held within several months and a presidential election in November.

Rajoelina seized control of the vast Indian Ocean island in March 2009 after weeks of sometimes violent street protests, ousting Ravalomanana with the military's blessing.

The four political leaders had signed a power-sharing accord that was later spurned by Rajoelina, prompting the African Union to slap travel and economic bans on him and scores of his backers last month.

Former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, the head of the international mediation team, met late Tuesday with Rajoelina and Ravalomanana, who is living in exile in South Africa. He also held talks with the other two leaders on Wednesday.

Former colonial power France and the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) are mediating the talks aimed at setting up a unity government that would lead Madagascar toward fresh elections, a source within Ravalomanana's movement said.

In November, 35-year-old Rajoelina inked a power-sharing agreement with Ravalomanana and the other two ex-presidents at the African Union's headquarters in Addis Ababa.

Under the agreement, Rajoelina was to retain the presidency but with two "co-presidents" from the other political movements.

The four rivals also agreed to establish a transitional institution ahead of elections.

But Rajoelina, a former disc jockey, has since spurned the accords, sacked a compromise prime minister and announced the country would hold elections.

Disagreements between the four leaders on the allocation of seats in the agreed unity government also wrecked the implementation of their agreements.

Those disputes are the centrepiece of Wednesday's talks, and pressure for a deal to stick is now building from Madagascar's military.

Security chiefs earlier this month called on the political leaders to settle their differences and chart a way out of the crisis.

That statement came just days after the armed forces minister was sacked and Prime Minister Vital took over the post, citing "rumours surrounding the army, which triggered fears about state governance."

Senior military officers who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity said the sacked minister had intended to stage a new coup to steer the country out of crisis.

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