- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

LOZITHA, SWAZILAND (AP) - Madagascar’s neighbors have suspended the impoverished nation from their regional development and democracy club, and threatened Tuesday to take further steps if the Indian Ocean island’s ousted president is not restored to power.

A Southern African Development Community summit that ended early Tuesday also called on the West to lift sanctions against another member, Zimbabwe.

Street protests led by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, who accused Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana of corruption and mismanagement, brought down Ravalomanana earlier this month. Ravalomanana ceded power to the military, which declared Rajoelina the new president.

Tomaz Salomao, executive director of the southern African group, said the summit urged Rajoelina “to vacate the office of the president as matter of urgency, paving the way for unconditional reinstatement of President Ravalomanana.”

If that does not happen, the leaders said in a communique that followed the daylong summit, the regional group would work with the African Union and the United Nations to “consider other options to restore constitutional normalcy.”

The African Union had earlier condemned Rajoelina and suspended Madagascar until it has a government elected through fair and transparent elections. Western nations have also voiced concern at what critics say was a coup, and Washington cut all non-humanitarian aid to Madagascar.

The southern African leaders had been expected to impose sanctions on Madagascar. Their decision on Zimbabwe may offer a clue why they did not.

In their communique, the southern Africans “urged the developed countries to lift all forms of sanctions against Zimbabwe as these sanctions will undermine the country’s and (regional) efforts to normalize the situation in that member state.”

Zimbabwe’s inflation is the world’s highest and has left most of its people dependent on foreign handouts, and a cholera outbreak has killed more than 4,000 people since August.

President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since its 1980 independence from Britain, blames Western sanctions for Zimbabwe’s economic collapse. But the longtime opposition party blames mismanagement and corruption by Mugabe’s party.

Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai formed a unity government earlier this year after months of negotiations.

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