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US halts Madagascar aid over coup

A Madagascan woman carries a bag. File photo
Millions of dollars in US aid to Madagascar could be affected

The US has halted all non-humanitarian aid to Madagascar after the army forced out the elected president and installed the opposition leader in his place.

Washington said it had to act, saying Tuesday's takeover was a "coup".

The EU also condemned the power grab, while the African Union suspended Madagascar's membership in the group.

Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina is due to be inaugurated as Madagascar's transitional head on Saturday after the ousting of President Marc Ravalomanana.

"This series of events is tantamount to a coup d'etat, and the United States will not maintain our current assistance partnership with Madagascar," US State Department spokesman Robert Wood said on Friday.

The people demanded liberty and the military rallied to the popular movement, but it did not seize power
Roindefo Monja
Transitional prime minister

"In view of these developments, the United States is moving to suspend all non-humanitarian assistance to Madagascar."

Mr Wood did not provide any figures, but it is believed that millions of dollars in aid to the Indian Ocean island will be affected.

Madagascar participates in several US programmes with a number of different aid agencies.

One of those agencies, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, said it was halting a poverty reduction grant to Madagascar, which totalled $110m (76m) over five years.

The US, the EU and AU have all urged Madagascar to restore democratic government.

Meanwhile, the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) has threatened sanctions against Madagascar.

Defiance

The aid suspension by Washington came just hours before the expected inauguration of Mr Rajoelina, a former disc-jockey, in the capital Antananarivo.

Andry Rajoelina in Antananarivo on 17 March 2009
The army handed power to Andry Rajoelina

Madagascar's Constitutional Court earlier approved the handover of power.

The former Antananarivo mayor says he now wants to change the constitution, which at presents bars him from contesting presidential elections, as at 34 he is six years too young.

The BBC's Christina Corbett in Antananarivo says he is trying to give himself legitimacy ahead of his inauguration.

Amid growing international pressure, Madagascar's acting prime minister said the new authorities "will explain to the whole world our cause".

"The people demanded liberty and the military rallied to the popular movement, but it did not seize power... We are confident the international community will understand," Roindefo Monja told Reuters news agency.

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.

At least 100 people died in Madagascar during several months of violent protests and looting, triggered by the power struggle between Mr Ravalomanana and Mr Rajoelina.

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