The United States on Monday urged the parties in the increasingly-tense political power struggle in Madagascar to resolved their difference through dialogue. Americans are being urged to avoid all but essential travel to the island state off the southeastern African coast.
State Department officials say they are closely monitoring the crisis, reminiscent of a political upheaval on the island in 2002, and appealing to the main parties to avoid further violence in a power struggle that has claimed more than 100 lives since January.
The U.S. appeal came as troops in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo, took over the presidential palace on Monday - shortly after opposition leader Andry Rajoelina called for the arrest of President Marc Ravalomanana.
Rajoelina, until last month the mayor of the capital city, has been leading protests against the president for several weeks that have been frequently marred by violence between demonstrators and security forces.
The president, sheltered elsewhere in the city, has refused to step down. But he has offered a referendum on who should run the country that has been rejected by his rival.
At a news briefing, State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said dialogue between the parties to settle the dispute peacefully is critically needed.
"We are concerned about the situation on the ground in Madagascar. And what we've been doing for over I think over a week now is calling on all of the actors to exercise restraint, to commit to nonviolence and to resolve differences through dialogue. It's a very troubling situation on the ground and we are monitoring it very closely. And what we want to see in the end is true political reconciliation and dialogue in accordance with Madagascar's constitution," he said.
Wood was non-committal about whether the United States wants to see some kind of intervention in the situation by the African Union or the southern African regional grouping SADC, saying that such decisions would be up to those institutions to make. He said the United States wants to foster conflict resolution between the two principals.
The crisis, now two months old, has crippled the picturesque country's tourism industry and created apprehension among would-be foreign investors.
The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning on Monday, recommending that Americans avoid non-essential travel to Madagascar because of the civil unrest. It noted that the U.S. Peace Corps program in the country has been temporarily suspended.