Regional leaders endorse roadmap to Madagascar polls
Southern African leaders on Sunday endorsed a roadmap to steer Madagascar to new elections but called on strongman Andry Rajoelina to allow the return of ousted president Marc Ravalomanana.
The exiled ex-president has refused to sign off on the deal, which initially said he would be allowed home only "after the establishment of a favourable political and security environment" on the island.
But leaders from the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is trying to resolve the crisis sparked by Ravalomanana's ouster two years ago, said the plan would be changed. They urged Rajoelina's government to let his rival return ahead of new polls.
"Summit endorsed the roadmap to bring Madagascar into constitutional normalcy presented by the SADC mediator on Madagascar after effecting necessary amendments," said the statement issued at the end of the regional bloc's meeting in Johannesburg.
"Summit also urged (Rajoelina's) high transition authority to allow Malagasy people in exile for political reasons to be allowed to return to the country unconditionally, including Mr Marc Ravalomanana."
Two other former presidents have also rejected the roadmap, which will make Rajoelina the president of a transition government and allow him to run in the new vote.
But the SADC, whose mediation team has been unable to make Rajoelina honour a previous power-sharing deal reached in August 2009, called on the hold-outs to sign the roadmap "expeditiously".
Ravalomanana has been living in South Africa since stepping down in March 2009 amid violent street protests and handing power to the military -- which promptly gave it to Rajoelina, then-mayor of the capital, Antananarivo.
The ousted president's return has been a major sticking point in the mediation process.
Ravalomanana faces life in prison in Madagascar after being sentenced in absentia for the killing of demonstrators by his presidential guard during the protests that led to his overthrow.
He denies any wrongdoing.
Rajoelina's camp has not backed down from threats to jail Ravalomanana if he returns.
"Coming back doesn't mean decriminalisation," Augustin Andriamananoro, special adviser to Rajoelina, told AFP.
"We will examine his case," he said when asked if the ex-president would still face prison.
Madagascar has been suspended from both the SADC and the African Union since Ravalomanana's ouster. It has also lost 600 million euros ($861 million) a year in European Union aid suspended over the deadlock.
The country's economy, which grew 7.1 percent in 2008, has shrunk since the start of the crisis -- 3.7 percent in 2009 and two percent last year, according to a report by the National Coordination of Civil Society Organisations.
The group says the number of Madagascans living on less than $1 a day has risen from 68 percent in 2008 to 76 percent in 2010.
© 2011 AFP