- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

ANTANANARIVO, MADAGASCAR (AP) - The new president of Madagascar was sworn in at a ceremony Saturday that was shunned by the international community after the ousting of the elected leader.

Thousands of supporters watched Andry Rajoelina take the oath of office at the municipal stadium in the island nation’s capital.

But African countries have refused to accept Rajoelina as president, and radio stations broadcasting the ceremony live said no foreign diplomats attended the ceremony.

Former President Marc Ravalomanana resigned Tuesday and placed power in the hands of the military, which then announced Rajoelina as the country’s new president.

The impoverished Indian Ocean island nation of 20 million people is known for its rare wildlife and eco-tourism, but the stakes have risen since oil was discovered three years ago.

Rajoelina _ who accused Ravalomanana of misspending funds and undermining democracy _ promised new elections within two years, after a new constitution is adopted, new electoral laws are introduced and an independent electoral commission is installed. He said in his speech Saturday that the measures would be handled by a national commission involving all sectors of society.

“Madagascar is a friend to every nation and to all the world’s citizens,” Rajoelina said. “Madagascar today is seeking a new hope, a peaceful and free future.”

He pledged that “the principles and rules of good governance” would be followed, and he appealed for recognition by the international community.

But the international community is pressing the country to restore democracy.

The African Union on Friday suspended Madagascar’s membership, and the U.S. cut all non-humanitarian aid.

On Thursday, countries in the southern Africa region said they would not recognize Rajoelina.

The AU’s second most important body, the Peace and Security Council, gave Madagascar six months to restore a constitutional government, likely through elections, or face possible AU sanctions on its leaders, according to Bruno Nongoma Zidouemba, the council’s temporary chairman, who spoke after a meeting in Ethiopia Friday.

Rajoelina has said his rise was a victory for “true democracy” over dictatorship, but Ravalomanana had accused him of seeking power by unconstitutional means. Under the constitution the 34-year-old opposition leader is too young to become president.

After Saturday’s swearing-in, Foreign Minister Ny Hasina Andriamanjato told reporters the new government would seek to negotiate with foreign countries with the aim of securing recognition.

He said a delegation would be sent to the president of the AU, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, to discuss the summit scheduled to take place in Madagascar in July, radio broadcasts said. The AU has made no announcement of a new venue for the summit after suspending Madagascar on Friday.

Madagascar, one of Africa’s poorest nations, has long suffered from political infighting.

Support for Ravalomanana began to waver last month after security forces opened fire and killed at least 25 anti-government demonstrators.

Ravalomanana clashed with former President Didier Ratsiraka when both claimed the presidency after a disputed December 2001 election. After low-level fighting split the country between two governments, two capitals and two presidents, Ratsiraka fled to France in June 2002.

Ravalomanana won re-election in 2006.

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