- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA (AP) - The toppling of Madagascar’s president by an army-backed rival threatens democracy in Africa, Zambia declared Thursday, offering the strongest African condemnation yet of the continent’s latest coup.

While other African leaders had expressed concern as events unfolded in the Indian Ocean island nation, none so far has been as emphatic as Zambia.

Also Thursday, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town compared the “power grab” in Madagascar to recent coups in Mauritania and Guinea and the assassination of Guinea-Bissau’s president.

“This should not be happening in 21st-century Africa,” the Anglican cleric said in a statement.

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 president.

Zambian Foreign Affairs Minister Kabinga Pande called Rajoelina’s coming to power in Madagascar “a setback and danger to the entrenchment of democracy and constitutional rule on the continent which should not be allowed to take root.”

In a statement in government papers Thursday, 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.

A committee of the southern African bloc was meeting Thursday to determine how to respond. An AU committee was meeting Friday, to examine whether what had taken place on Madagascar was a coup, which would lead to Madagascar’s automatic suspension.

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

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

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

Some of Rajoelina’s anti-government protests had led to deadly clashes. The deaths of at least 25 civilians last month cost Ravalomanana the backing of many in the military, and a mutiny spread and gained popular support.

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