Toppled Madagascar president Marc Ravalomanana disputed his rival Andry Rajoelina's legitimacy as the head of the country's transitional government, ignoring his rival's attempts to appease tensions by calling for talks.
REUTERS - Madagascar's new army-backed government offered on Wednesday to start talks with allies of ousted President Marc Ravalomanana to defuse political tensions that risk prolonging the months-long crisis.
Faced with international condemnation and daily protests against his rise, President Andry Rajoelina's government said national reconciliation talks were scheduled for April 2-3.
They would include discussions of when to hold a new presidential poll, the government said.
Foreign powers and Ravalomanana supporters say Rajoelina's assumption of power last week, after the former president handed over to the military, was effectively a coup. Regional power South Africa said on Wednesday it would support sanctions.
Members of Ravalomanana's political party declined to say whether they would participate in the proposed dialogue.
Rajoelina has vowed to hold an election within two years, but is under pressure to do that sooner.
Unrest prior to Ravalomanana's fall killed at least 135 people, crippled the island's $390 million-a-year tourism sector, and unnerved foreign investors in the Indian Ocean island's burgeoning mine and oil industries.
While the violence has stopped, the spectre of more trouble remains as thousands of Ravalomanana supporters rally daily at a park in the capital Antananarivo.
Message from Ravalomanana
Ravalomanana called Rajoelina's rise a coup in a recorded message to a 12,000-strong crowd gathered for a third
consecutive day of protests on Wednesday.
"The coup d'etat is condemned by the whole world. It is up to you and me to protect our fatherland. The moment will come for us to meet," he said.
Ravalomanana, 59, who stepped down when the military swung behind Rajoelina, has been in Swaziland ahead of a March 30 meeting of the South African Development Community (SADC) that is expected to consider sanctions.
"If they cannot go back to the elected president then they must have an election, said South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, voicing support for sanctions.
Rajoelina's communications minister, Augustin Andriamananoro, told Reuters next week's talks in Madagascar were intended to include "all stakeholders", meaning government, military, church and opposition parties.
"The talks will fix the timetable for elections and tackle the points to address further down the line with regard to the elaboration of a new constitution or electoral code," he said.
At 34, Rajoelina, a former disc jockey and successful businessman who spent nearly two years as Antananarivo mayor, is Africa's youngest president.
Date created : 2009-03-26