- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The United States on Friday suspended millions of dollars in aid to the Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar, saying the change of government there this week was unconstitutional.

The State Department said the Obama administration would cut all non-humanitarian assistance to the country because the ouster of President Marc Ravalomanana, who resigned after weeks of protests and handed power to the military, was “tantamount to a coup d’etat.”

“The United States will not maintain our current assistance partnership with Madagascar,” department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.

The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development could not provide the exact amount of aid to be suspended was not immediately clear, but Madagascar participates in several U.S. programs with several different agencies under which it receives significant development assistance.

One of those agencies, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, said later it was putting a hold on five-year, $110 million poverty reduction grant program with Madagascar. More than half of that grant had already been disbursed.

Under federal law, the U.S. must suspend non-humanitarian assistance to countries where a democratically elected government is toppled by unconstitutional means, and Wood urged the restoration of legitimate leadership.

“The United States has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the people of Madagascar and we call on them to immediately undertake a democratic, consensual process to restore constitutional governance culminating in free, fair and peaceful elections,” Wood said.

Ravalomanana resigned on Tuesday and gave power to the military, which then named his political rival Andry Rajoelina as president.

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

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