Wed, Apr 01, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Madagascar suspended from southern African group


Madagascar’s neighbors have suspended the impoverished nation from their regional club and declared they would take further steps if the Indian Ocean island nation’s toppled president is not restored to power.

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

In Madagascar earlier this month, Andry Rajoelina, accusing former Madagascan president Marc Ravalomanana of corruption and mismanagement, led a series of sometimes violent street protests that culminated with the military declaring Rajoelina president.

Tomaz Salomao, executive director of the southern African group, said the summit urged Rajoelina “to vacate the office of the president as a 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 a day-long summit, the regional group would work with the African Union and the UN 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 said was a coup, with Washington cutting 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. Zimbabwe has argued that what the West calls targeted sanctions — banking and travel restrictions on top leaders — have a chilling effect on the overall economy.

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.”

The Southern African Development Community, dedicated to fighting poverty and encouraging democracy and good governance, pushed Zimbabwe’s factions to form a unity government that was installed in February after a year of political violence and impasse. Zimbabwe has asked its neighbors for US$2 billion — half to support retail and other sectors and the rest to help schools and restore health and municipal services. It has said it needs billions more from other donors.

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