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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Madagascar leader challenges France
Marc Ravalomanana
Mr Ravalomanana was sworn in a month ago
One of the two rival leaders of Madagascar has urged France to clarify which one it supports.

Marc Ravalomanana, in an interview with a French daily, asked France to state whether it backed him or his opponent, Didier Ratsiraka.


It's time for France to take a clear stance

Marc Ravalomanana

For six months, the two men have been locked in a dispute over the outcome of the presidential election, which a court ruled had been won by Mr Ravalomanana.

France, which has not officially recognised Mr Ravalomanana as president, called on the two sides to form a government of national reconciliation last Saturday.

'Mercenaries'

Mr Ratsiraka returned to Madagascar last week after spending several days in France to look for support.

Mr Ravalomanana accused him of using his visit to recruit alleged mercenaries who were intercepted in Tanzania on their way to Madagascar last Tuesday after a tip-off from the French authorities, allegations denied by Mr Ratsiraka.

He told the Christian daily La Croix that a clarification was needed from France to dispel doubt.

"It's time for France to take a clear stance," he said.

"Most French nationals in Madagascar and in France do not understand their government's position towards us," Mr Ravalomanana told the newspaper.

"I want to work with France, which shares a common history with us," he said.

It had been hoped that the political situation would improve if Mr Ravalomanana included allies of Didier Ratsiraka in a government of national unity.

But a reshuffle last Tuesday failed to result in ministerial appointments for any of Mr Ratsiraka's allies.

Mr Ravalomanana explained why.

OAU membership

"When I formed the government, Didier Ratsiraka was out of the country. I contacted members of his former regime, but they are afraid of their leader," he said.

He dismissed the statement made last Friday by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), in which it said that neither of the two rivals were Madagascar's legitimate president, and that new elections should be held.

"I'm very surprised and saddened by this decision," Mr Ravalomanana said.

Mr Ratsiraka has accepted an OAU proposal to hold fresh elections, but Mr Ravalomanana has rejected the plan.

The OAU also decided on Friday to freeze Madagascar's seat until a constitutional and legitimate government is established in the island.

Didier Ratsiraka
Mr Ratsiraka has now returned to his stronghold of Tamatave

"I am going to seriously look into the question of Madagascar's OAU future membership," Mr Ravalomanana told La Croix.

He said that his camp would soon control the two provinces held by Mr Ratsiraka.

"Within the next few days, we shall once again control the whole territory," he said.

"The reconquest is slow because we want to stick to our philosophy, which is to do so in a peaceful manner," he said.


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