South African leaders reject Madagascar military takeover

SADC (Southern African Development Community) leaders meeting in Swaziland on Monday condemned the recent military takeover in Madagascar and are expected to suspend the Indian Ocean island from the bloc.


AFP - Southern African leaders condemned an army-backed takeover in Madagascar on Monday as they opened a summit to consider sanctions against the island's transitional leader Andry Rajoelina.

"This unconstitutional takeover by the de facto regime in Madagascar violates the basics principles, protocols and treaties and is unacceptable," said Swazi King Mswati III at the opening of the talks.

"We are here to deliberate on the best possible way forward to address the present situation in Madagascar," said Mswati.

The summit was also set to consider a request by Zimbabwe for billions of dollars in aid to rebuild its shattered economy.

So far the region, which includes some of the world's poorest countries, has not made any specific offers to meet a request for two billion dollars (1.5 billion euros) in loans and aid for Zimbabwe's unity government.

For Madagascar, a regional security organ headed by Mswati has already warned that the bloc could impose sanctions on Rajoelina's government, and sent a fact-finding mission to the vast island off Africa's east coast.

SADC's executive director Tomaz Salomao headed the mission and was set to lead deliberations on how to help Madagascar to return to democracy.

The African Union has already suspended Madagascar over the ousting of president Marc Ravalomanana earlier this month.

Ravalomanana was forced out of office when the army turned against him after a bitter three-month struggle, and his supporters have taken to the streets in protest.

Mswati heaped praise on Zimbabwe, where long-time opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai last month joined President Robert Mugabe in a unity government.

"We continue to be happily impressed by the progress made in the formation and operationalisation of the inclusive government," he said.

"However, the greatest challenge Zimbabwe is now facing is the recovery of their economy," he said.

The king described the request for aid as a "most heartening and encouraging" sign of the unity government working together.

But he again called on western countries to lift sanctions against Mugabe and his inner circle, which he said were hindering the country's recovery plan.

"Unfortunately, this cannot be successfully implemented while Zimbabwe is under sanctions that continue crippling their economy," he said.

Western donors have said that they will not lend money to Zimbabwe or lift sanctions against Mugabe until the 85-year-old leader demonstrates that he is willing to make a fragile unity government work.

Zimbabwe's hopes for recovery were struck a blow last week when the International Monetary Fund said it would only provide aid to Harare once the unity government meets key conditions, including the repayment of some 125 million dollars in arrears.

Zimbabwe's economy has been in freefall for nearly a decade, with record hyperinflation, unemployment at 94 percent and a severe collapse of services which resulted in a deadly cholera epidemic.

In December, South Africa donated agricultural aid worth 300 million rand (23 million euros, 31 million dollars) to boost the country's struggling farmers.

But Finance Minister Tendai Biti warned last week that eight billion dollars would be need to repair vital infrastructure, with another 80 million dollars a month needed to pay civil servants and keep the government running.

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