AU suspends Madagascar, U.S. to halt aid

ANTANANARIVO, (Reuters) – The African Union  suspended Madagascar yesterday and the United States said it  planned to halt all but emergency aid, increasing pressure after  the opposition took power with the support of the army.

Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina was declared president of  the Indian Ocean island on Tuesday after weeks of political  unrest that have killed at least 135 people, devastated the  economy and worried foreign investors.

“A civilian and military coup has taken place in  Madagascar,” said Burkina Faso’s Ambassador Bruno Nongoma  Zidouemba, chairman of the AU’s peace and security council.

He said the council “decided to suspend the participation of  Madagascar to the bodies and organs of the AU.”

Madagascar’s elected president, Marc Ravalomanana, was  forced out on Tuesday after opposition protests that won the support of the military. Ravalomanana’s foes had accused him of  autocratic rule and failing to address poverty.

The United States said it regarded the takeover as a coup.

“In view of these developments, the United States is moving  to suspend all non-humanitarian assistance to Madagascar,” U.S.  State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.

The AU said the new administration had six months to call an  election, as provided for by the constitution. Rajoelina has set  a 24-month transition. Zidouemba said the pan-African body would  meet at a later date to discuss possible sanctions.

South African Defence Minister Charles Nqakula said the  regional SADC’s security troika had discussed the possibility of  removing Madagascar from the group and would urge members to  impose sanctions on the country at a meeting later this month.

Roindefo Monja, prime minister in Rajoelina’s transitional  administration, told Reuters the new government would plead its  case before the AU and the international community.

“What can they say about a fight for liberty and democracy?  What crime has been committed?” he said by telephone.

“We will explain to the whole world our cause … The people  demanded liberty and the military rallied to the popular  movement but it did not seize power … We are confident the  international community will understand,” he said.

Monja added that he did not expect donor nations to cut aid,  saying they were interested in Madagascar’s long term stability.

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