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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
New mercenaries 'off to Madagascar'
Pro-Ravalomanana's soldiers arresting rival Ratsiraka's militiamen
The standoff has divided Madagascar
Madagascar's new government says 36 mercenaries have been flown from South Africa in what it says is a new bid to assassinate the new President, Marc Ravalomana.

The allegations came as half of capital Antananarivo was left without power after three electricity pylons were blown up on Friday.

Mr Ravalomanana's government blamed the attack on supporters of presidential rival, Didier Ratsiraka, who is in the Ethiopian capital Addis Abba for a special summit on the crisis in his country.

Earlier, Madagascar's State Radio in Antananarivo said Mr Ravalomanana had left for the Addis gathering "out of respect for the OAU (Organisation of African Unity) and its unceasing efforts to find a solution".

But the BBC's Nita Bhalla in Addis says OAU officials hosting the meeting have confirmed that Mr Ravalomanana will not be attending the meeting.

Dogs of war

A statement issued on Friday by the government said the mercenaries flew from East London, along South Africa's eastern coast, and had instructions to try to assasinate Ravalomanana.

It said the mercenaries were being co-funded by the rival government and an anonymous African head of state.

But South African aviation authorities denied any knowledge that there was any such operation out of East London.

Marc Ravalomanana
The leader of the new government says he will not attend the OAU summit

On Wednesday, Tanzanian authorities turned back a plane carrying 12 suspected French mercenaries to Madagascar.

The Ravalomanana government statement issued on Wednesday said that Didier Ratsiraka was behind efforts to send the mercenaries into the country.

It said it would take legal action against Mr Ratsiraka if he returned to Madagascar.

OAU plan

According to correspondents, the Friday power cut crippled the capital Antananarivo, which is Ravalomanana's stronghold.

They said the power line that blew up exploded in the city of Andekaleka, in Ratsiraka's provincial stronghold of Tamatave, about 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of the capital.

In Addis Ababa, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade was joined at the summit by the leaders of Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, as well as the deputy president of South Africa and foreign ministers from Togo, Namibia, Egypt, and Gabon.

Diplomats say the meeting will focus on an OAU plan put forward on 9 June.

Didier Ratsiraka
Ratsiraka's camp denies links with the alleged mercenaries

It envisages a transitional government with an equal number of representatives from both the Ratsiraka and Ravalomanana camps to lead the country to early general elections.

The diplomats called for an immediate solution, although previous diplomatic mediation has failed.

Mr Ravalomanana was declared president by a Madagascan court last month after a disputed election in December, but the verdict has not been accepted by Mr Ratsiraka and his supporters.

The stand-off between the two men has led to violence that has cost about 70 lives.

The BBC's Jonny Donovan in Antananarivo says that for many people in Madagascar, the latest breakdown in relations between the two camps means that Mr Ratsiraka's time is over.

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21 Jun 02 | Africa
20 Jun 02 | Africa
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17 Jun 02 | Africa
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