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'Francophonie' organisation bans Madagascar

Troubled Madagascar finds itself increasingly isolated after France's International Francophonie Organisation (OIF) suspended the island's membership, following former mayor Andry Rajoelina's power takeover.

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AFP - Madagascar's isolated government opened a two-day forum Thursday to set a timetable for elections, as the international organisation of French-speaking nations suspended the nation's membership.

The ruling party of the ousted president also stayed away from the talks.

Andry Rajoelina, whose fledgling leadership of the Indian Ocean island has been rejected by the international community, said the talks marked the beginning of efforts to change the country's politics.

"This day today should be marked with a white stone in the history of Madagascar," Rajoelina told the opening ceremony. It was Rajoelina after Marc Ravalomanana was forced to step down on March 17.

"In fact it is today that were are going to lay the first stone in the democratisation and process of profound change in Madagascar's political life and leadership," he added.

"Without boasting I would like to say that Madagascans have not been able for a very long time to organise such a meeting without outside assistance," said Rajoelina.

About 1,000 top military officials, religious leaders, civilians and members of Rajoelina's own transitional authority, attended the meeting said organisers.

But Ravalomanana's I Love Madagascar (TIM) party boycotted the meeting, saying it would organise its own conference on Friday.

Ravalomanana told this weeks's Southern African Development Community summit he had been forced to resign at gunpoint after his army-backed rival sent troops to the presidential palace.

The 15-nation body decided Monday to suspend Madagascar until constitutional order was restored.

And on Thursday, France's International Francophonie Organisation (OIF), grouping French-speaking nations around the world, also suspended Madagascar's membership.

A statement from the group said the island nation's constitutional order had been broken.

The two-day forum was expected to set a time frame for elections that would end months of social bitterness, political uncertainty and violence that has left more than 100 people dead since the end of January.

Three committees were to resume their work on Friday at 9:00 am (0600 GMT).

The African Union's special envoy Ablasse Ouedraogo as well as the ambassadors of Egypt, Morocco and Senegal attended the opening meeting.

But representatives of the European Union and the ambassadors of France and the United States were absent.

Western countries have branded Rajoelina's takeover "a coup".

AU envoy Ouedraogo told AFP that Rajoelina's rise to power was tainted by a lack of legality, but he added that he expected the meeting to "lead to fair and transparent elections".

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