African group blocks Madagascar coup leader at UN


African nations blocked the president of Madagascar from addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, saying his rise to power through a military coup made him illegitimate.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, speaking on behalf of the 15-member Southern African Development Community, said Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina should be barred, a motion later carried by a vote on the Assembly floor.

Madagascar is represented at this session of the assembly by persons who rose from an attempted coup,” Congo Foreign Minister Alexis Thambwe-Mwamba said as the delegation from the oil and mineral producing Indian Ocean island sat silently at their desk.

The president of the Assembly, Libya‘s Ali Triki, said the U.N. legal counsel had ruled that Rajoelina — who had received an official U.N. invitation to attend the assembly — should be allowed to participate and then called for a vote that quickly led to confusion.

“I’m not sure what we just voted for. I’m totally confused,” one delegate said after the circuitously worded motion was put the floor.

Finally, with most countries abstaining, the Africans marshaled 23 votes against Rajoelina versus four in support and he was prevented from taking the podium.

The island state has experienced months of political turmoil after Rajoelina, 35, led violent street protests culminating in a military-backed coup in March that toppled former leader Marc Ravalomanana.

The United Nations joined the African Union and the European Union in branding the power-grab unconstitutional and called for Madagascar‘s leaders to form a consensus government ahead of fresh elections in late 2010.

The African Union in particular has been trying to take a stronger stance against coups, hoping to break the continent’s history of military takeovers.

Rajoelina’s invitation to the General Assembly had spurred speculation in Madagascar that the United Nations was softening its stance. U.N. officials indicated the invitation and the question of Rajoelina’s legitimacy were separate issues.

Opposition parties say they remain united in their determination to pick a consensus government, and last weekend saw a return to street violence after riot police clashed with opposition supporters.