Madagascar leader to meet exiled rival after mutiny

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 23, 2012 10:53 AM
Madagascar leader to meet exiled rival after mutiny

By Alain Iloniaina

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Madagascar's interim leader Andry Rajoelina said he was flying out on Monday to meet his exiled rival to try and ease political turmoil in the Indian Ocean island a day after the army crushed a mutiny.

Rajoelina, who came to power in 2009 following a coup against then president Marc Ravalomanana, said the pair would hold frank talks in the Seychelles later this week.

He announced the meeting hours after the Madagascan army killed the leader of a mutiny in a barracks near the capital's airport and arrested the renegade soldiers.

It was not immediately clear if the mutiny was linked to the wider political instability that has plagued the island since Ravalomanana was forced to flee to South Africa in 2009. {ID:nLDE7511IO]

The army said it was questioning the soldiers, but did not give any details of their grievances or demands.

"There has already been three coup attempts in this country. But what happened yesterday (Sunday) is really unfortunate because this time around, lives were lost," Rajoelina told reporters in the capital Antananarivo.

"Even if there were attempts to destabilize the country, it will not prevent me from going to this meeting."

He said he was confident he could come to an agreement, without going into any further details.

"The discussions will need to be frank in the best interests of the nation. Ravalomanana and I will be responsible for making the decisions that are suitable," said Rajoelina.

Madagascan officials had hinted the two would meet, but it was the first time Rajoelina had confirmed it. They have met since the coup, without resolving the wider crisis.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has given both leaders a July 31 deadline to roll out a broad agreement reached in September.

Under the agreement made by Madagascar's major political parties, Rajoelina would be confirmed as president, Ravalomanana would be allowed to return unconditionally and elections would take place within a year.

Ravalomanana has tried to return to the world's fourth largest island twice in the past year. But in both cases, the islands airports were closed, blocking his landing.

He was sentenced in absentia to life in prison for the killings of demonstrators by elite troops in the run-up to his removal.

The army said Sunday's mutiny had been contained.

"What happened is as a result of a prolonged crisis," said the head of the military press office Lieutenant Colonel Philbert Ratovonirina, without going into further detail.

"At the moment, the situation is under control and has been contained, but in general, the situation remains fragile," he added.

Madagascar's key tourism industry has suffered badly from the turmoil. Foreign investors eying its oil, gold and chrome have also been wary of committing to the impoverished nation.

Rajoelina, a former disc jockey, led demonstrations against Ravalomanana in early 2009 following the closure of his Viva TV Station. The protests gained momentum when they won the backing of the army.

(Additional reporting by George Thande in Victoria and Lisa Ntungicimpaye in Nairobi; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Andrew Heavens)