Friday, November 26, 2010

Madagascar Accuses Judge of Links to Coup Plotters

Madagascar accuses judge of links to coup plotters

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Madagascar Friday charged a former judge at the International Court of Justice with threatening state security, accusing Raymond Ranjeva of links with rebel troops behind last week's failed coup attempt.

Justice Minister Christine Razanamahasoa said Ranjeva had been released on bail. He had been questioned earlier in the week over possible connections between the mutiny and his past declarations he was willing to be part of a new government.

The rebellion ended almost a week ago after the army stormed the BANI barracks on the outskirts of the capital Antananarivo and arrested nearly 20 military officers who had threatened to overthrow the government on the Indian Ocean island.

"Raymond Ranjeva has not been sent to jail. He is accused of threatening the internal security of the state," Razanamahasoa told Reuters by telephone, adding he had links with officers behind the mutiny.

It was not clear whether Ranjeva would plead guilty or not and it was not immediately possible to contact him. No date has been set for the trial, the minister said.

Military police commander Colonel Richard Ravalomanana told Reuters that 10 of the dissident troops held on charges including rebellion and threatening state security had also appeared before the court.

It was unclear if any had been temporarily released from detention.

Political analysts said Ranjeva, who hails from the Merina nobility, had widespread support among civil society leaders and might have made a popular leader had the plot been successful.

In October, Ranjeva publicly lashed out at President Andry Rajoelina, accusing Africa's youngest leader of turning his back on a negotiated end to the political turmoil, triggered when Rajoelina seized power with military support in March 2009.

"To Andry Rajoelina ... I simply ask the handover of responsibilities to a truly neutral interim authority. I put myself at the disposal of the real transition," he said then.

Ranjeva was a member of the U.N. International Court of Justice in the Hague between 1991 and 2009.

The latest bout of unrest in Madagascar has underscored the depth of internal rifts plaguing the army since Rajoelina drove predecessor Marc Ravalomanana into exile.

The rebellion broke out as the country, the world's biggest producer of vanilla, voted peacefully in a referendum to replace the old constitution scrapped by Rajoelina when he grabbed power.

The new charter lowers the minimum age for the president from 40 to 35; Rajoelina is 36. The opposition had called for a boycott.

(Reporting by Alain Iloniaina; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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