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Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
France backs Ravalomanana
Antananarivo house
Madagascar desperately needs foreign aid
Marc Ravalomanana has gained the all-important public endorsement of his presidency from Madagascar's former colonial power, France.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has signed four aid agreements with the new government in the capital, Antananarivo.

Marc Ravalomanana
Ravalomanana's inauguration was not attended by France
These documents refer to Mr Ravalomanana as "President of the Republic".

Mr Ravalomanana was sworn in as president in May, however long-standing leader, Didier Ratsiraka has refused to stand down, demanding new elections.

Presidential elections were held last December but neither man accepted defeat and the Indian Ocean island has been divided ever since.

At least 70 people have been killed and recently, fears of civil war has worsened as Mr Ravalomanana's backers have taken territory from their rivals.

The United States, Germany, Japan and Australia have recently recognised Mr Ravalomanana's government but France is Madagascar's major trading partner and a vital source of foreign aid.

The Organisation of African Unity has however refused to allocate its seat to either party. Lobbying

The BBC's Jonny Donovan in Madagascar says that Mr Villepin was reluctant to publicly clarify the French position.

But he says the reference to the "President of the Republic" in a communique from the French embassy can leave no doubt.


He [Villepin] is the first minister from a foreign government to come here officially and sign an agreement

Foreign Minister Marcel Ranjeva

Mr Ravalomanana has been pushing hard for French recognition since December's elections.

To his dismay, the French Ambassador did not attend the new president's inauguration on 6 May or his independence day speech on 26 June.

Mr Ratsiraka last week returned home from France after lobbying there for his cause.

But the diplomatic scales are tipping against him as France now joins the United States, Japan and Australia in recognising Marc Ravalomanana as president.

Recognition was top of Marc Ravalomanana's agenda when he met the foreign minister. A close second was financial help from France.

'Big symbol'

The Madagascar economy is in tatters after Mr Ratsiraka's supporters imposed a blockade on Mr Ravalomanana's stronghold in the capital.

Observers say the four aid agreements signed on Wednesday will be a step towards restoring the economy.

France has gone out of its way to please Mr Ravalomanana following its hesitation over recognising him.

One of the four agreements is for the development of Antananarivo. The new president was the capital's mayor before winning the presidential election.

And Mr Ravalomanana's officials are delighted.

"He (Villepin) is the first minister from a foreign government to come here officially and sign an agreement. To me that's a big symbol," said Foreign Affairs Minister, Marcel Ranjeva.

Didier Ratsiraka
Ratsiraka has called for ceasefire and reconciliation

Marc Ravalomanana had become impatient with France's hesitation in recognising him as president - especially after the constitutional court decided he had won December's elections.

He has accused Didier Ratsiraka of using his recent trip to France to recruit mercenaries.

This was also an implicit criticism of France for allowing Mr Ratsiraka to use French territory to look for military allies.

Mr Ratsiraka denied his opponent's accusations about mercenaries.


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01 Jul 02 | Africa
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