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Africans reject Madagascar leader

Andry Rajoelina in Antananarivo on 17 March 2009
Andry Rajoelina has held his first cabinet meeting

Southern African countries have refused to recognise Madagascar's new leader, Andry Rajoelina, who on Tuesday ousted the democratically-elected president.

Regional body Sadc, to which Madagascar belongs, said constitutional rule should be restored as soon as possible.

At a mini-summit in Swaziland, Sadc urged the African Union (AU) and international community not to acknowledge Mr Rajoelina.

He held his first cabinet meeting on Thursday and suspended parliament.

The AU is due to meet on Friday to discuss the situation in Madagascar.

Chorus of condemnation

The Southern African Development Community statement said the 15-member group "condemns in the strongest terms the circumstances that led to the ousting of a democratically-elected president of Madagascar".

FROM THE BBC WORLD SERVICE

America added its voice to the chorus of condemnation on Thursday.

A US state department spokesman said of Madagascar: "We view this as an undemocratic transfer of power."

On Wednesday, Zambia called for the immediate suspension of Madagascar from the AU and Sadc.

It came hours after Madagascar's highest court backed the handover of power to Mr Rajoelina.

Mr Rajoelina, a former disc-jockey who seized power on the Indian Ocean island with army support, has set up two transitional bodies to run the country.

The BBC's Christina Corbett in the capital Antananarivo says he is trying to legitimise himself ahead of his inauguration as transitional leader on Saturday.

Too young

The 34-year-old former mayor, who is six years too young to be elected president, has promised a new constitution and elections within two years.

Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana on 15 March 2009
Marc Ravalomanana's whereabouts are still unknown
According to Malagasy law, the head of parliament's upper house should have taken over after the president's resignation and organised an election within two months.

There is still no word on the whereabouts of Mr Ravalomanana, whose re-election to a second term in 2006 could not save him from being ousted.

Mr Rajoelina earlier axed a controversial deal for a South Korean firm to lease about half of Madagascar's arable land to grow food corn and palm oil.

Widespread protests had already slowed down progress on the plan, which would have used some 1.3m hectares (3.2m acres). Some had said it amounted to "neo-colonialism".

Mr Rajoelina told reporters: "In the constitution, it is stipulated that Madagascar's land is neither for sale nor for rent, so the agreement with Daewoo is cancelled."

Daewoo Logistics complained it had already invested "not a small amount".

Opposition to this plan was one of the reasons behind Mr Ravalomanana's loss of popular support.

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