ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - A makeshift bomb exploded at the entrance of a hotel in Madagascar's capital on Thursday causing no casualties, police said, and a previously unknown group claimed responsibility telling foreigners to keep out of the nation's elections.
The blast, though small, will raise tensions on the Indian Ocean island before a fraught presidential vote that has been pushed back for a third time till October 25 over a row about who can run, extending the country's political crisis.
The former French colony has been in turmoil since President Andry Rajoelina seized power with military support in 2009, ousting former President Marc Ravalomanana and scaring off investors and tourists.
Both Rajoelina and Ravalomanana had reached a deal with regional states to restore order, based on the condition neither would run in the next vote.
But Rajoelina initially changed tack when Ravalomanana's wife said she was running. The European Union, the United States and the African Union (AU) threatened to impose sanctions if the old candidates persisted in standing for office.
Germain Ratsirombahina, police chief in the capital Antananarivo, said the device went off outside the Hotel Plaza overnight, causing no injuries or damage.
In an email sent to at least one Western embassy, a previously unheard of group calling itself Defenders of the Nation's Sovereignty said it was behind the blast.
"The Malagasy people will never accept the political maneuverings of certain nations aimed at suppressing (Malagasy) rights and freedom to chose their destiny," it said.
It also said the nation would not accept a court ruling last month that barred Rajoelina, Ravalomanana's wife and another former president, from running in the election, saying it did "not reflect the popular will".
A Western diplomat confirmed their mission had received the email, but had no information about the group behind it.
The AU on Thursday lifted other sanctions it had imposed in 2010 on Rajoelina and 108 other people who had backed his seizure of power in 2009, now that he was no longer an official candidate in the next elections.
(Reporting by Alain Ilioinaina; Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Edmund Blair and Andrew Heavens)