African Union calls for Madagascar talks to resume


International efforts to resolve a year-long political crisis in Madagascar must be redoubled to stop the Indian Ocean Island from sliding deeper into turmoil, the African Union (AU) said yesterday.

Speaking at the opening of an international contact group meeting in Ethiopia, AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping called for the resumption of talks between Madagascar’s feuding politicians over the formation of a power-sharing administration.

The AU’s insistence on a consensus solution places it at odds with Madagascar’s leader, Andry Rajoelina, who has urged foreign mediators in recent weeks to stop meddling in the country’s affairs.
“They (earlier power-sharing deals) are the fruits of consensus and are the only political and judicial basis from which to break the deadlock and end this crisis,” Ping told the meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

In Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, armed police fired teargas to stop an opposition march on a presidential palace in the city centre.
“We left… to accompany our (opposition) leaders to the palace to hand over a letter to Rajoelina asking whether he still stood for reconciliation,” opposition supporter Dominique Randrianasolo told Reuters. “But the forces of repression fired teargas at us to stop us.”

Rajoelina, 35, tore up a series of internationally-brokered agreements shortly before Christmas and appointed a senior military officer as prime minister to govern the country, which is increasingly eyed by foreigners for its oil and minerals.

Government spokesman Augustin Andriamananoro quickly rejected taking up negotiations again with former presidents Marc Ravalomanana, Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy.
“Now, putting in place these accords with these people is unthinkable,”

Andriamananoro told Reuters. “We have made our choice and that is to give the people their say.”

Rajoelina has set parliamentary elections for March 20, just over a year after he spearheaded Ravalomanana’s overthrow.

Yesterday, opposition leaders boycotted a two-day national workshop on preparations for the March vote.

The workshop “has no basis and is unilaterally organised, which breaks with the (power-sharing) deals signed previously in Maputo and Addis Ababa,” Emmanuel Rakotovahiny, who had been named one of two co-presidents under the accords, told Reuters.

Ping did not mention the legislative poll in his speech.

Analysts are divided on how much leverage regional blocs including the AU, which suspended Madagascar after Rajoelina’s power-grab, and foreign donors have in persuading Africa’s youngest incumbent to return to talks.

France-based analyst Lydie Boka said donors still wielded carrots in the form of suspended aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars. “No private sector flows can compensate aid, even in the medium run,” Boka told Reuters by email.

But others say Rajoelina might consider he has more to gain by breaking away from negotiations and hoping to obtain a semblance of legitimacy through the ballot box.