- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

MBABANE, SWAZILAND (AP) - Southern African nations declared Thursday they will not recognize Madagascar’s new leader, an army-backed politician who ousted an elected president, and the United States said it would reconsider aid to the island nation.

The stance came as Madagascar’s neighbors held a mini-summit Thursday on the situation in the Indian Ocean nation and after Zambia declared that the power change in Madagascar threatens democracy in Africa.

Representatives of the Southern African Development Community also urged the African Union and the international community not to recognize Andry Rajoelina as president of Madagascar and called for a return to “democratic and constitutional rule in the shortest time possible.”

After months of street protests, Marc Ravalomanana resigned as Madagascar’s president Tuesday and placed power in the hands of the military. Within hours, the military announced it was making opposition leader Andry Rajoelina the country’s new president.

The African regional leaders meeting Thursday said if Rajoelina refuses to relinquish power to Ravalomanana, the bloc would recommend imposing sanctions. Madagascar is a member of the regional bloc.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood called events in Madagascar “an undemocratic transfer of power” that was making the United States review its aid to the country.

“We’re currently evaluating what impact this transfer (of power) is going to have on all elements of our relationship with the government of Madagascar,” he said.

Earlier Thursday, Zambia’s foreign affairs minister, Kabinga Pande, condemned Rajoelina’s coming to power.

“(It’s) a setback and danger to the entrenchment of democracy and constitutional rule on the continent which should not be allowed to take root,” he said in a statement in government newspapers.

Pande also called for the suspension of Madagascar from both the Southern African Development Community and the African Union. The AU was to have held its annual meeting in Madagascar later this year.

An AU committee was to meet Friday to decide whether the events in Madagascar constituted a coup, which would lead to Madagascar’s automatic suspension.

Rajoelina has accused his ousted rival of misspending public funds and undermining democracy. He says his rise was a victory for “true democracy” over dictatorship and has promised new elections within two years.

France, Madagascar’s former colonial power and current main donor, said two years was “too long” to wait for elections.

Ravalomanana had accused Rajoelina of seeking power by unconstitutional means, since under the constitution the 34-year-old opposition leader was too young to become president.

Some of Rajoelina’s anti-government protests this year have led to deadly clashes. Soldiers shot and killed at least 25 civilians last month at one protest, costing Ravalomanana the backing of many in the military. A mutiny then spread and gained popular support.

___

Associated Press Writer Lewis Mwanangombe in Lusaka, Zambia contributed to this report.

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