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AU Envoy Says Elections Will Be Held in Madagascar by Year End

African Union officials say Madagascar's military-backed administration is willing to hold elections by the end of this year. An international contact group on Madagascar has affirmed its support for ousted President Marc Ravalomanana and demanded he be included in talks on restoring constitutional order.

AU special envoy to Madagascar Ablasse Ouedraogo says the group that ousted President Ravalomanana six weeks ago and replaced him with opposition leader Andry Rajoelina has agreed to organize elections by December. Mr. Rajoelina had previously said elections would not be held before 2011.

That word came as an international contact group on Madagascar held its first meeting, and called for urgent action to quell a sharp escalation in violence in the past two weeks.

The foreign minister of the Rajoelina-led government, Ny Hasnia Andriamanjato is reported to have met with some contact group members in Addis Ababa Thursday, but was not invited to the closed-door meeting.

Afterward, African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said the contact group is demanding that President Ravalomanana be included in any negotiations on restoring stability to Madagascar.

"We acknowledge that President Ravalomanana as well as other distinguished national personalities should be involved and that qualitative contributions on their part to build up the consensual vision of a solution that we are asking our special envoys to develop with the stakeholders," Lamamra said.

Diplomats attending the meeting expressed concern that Mr. Rajoelina appears to have lost control of the security forces that brought him to power. One senior diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described security conditions in Antananarivo as a 'free for all'.

News reports have told of running street battles in the streets of the capital between police and Ravalomanana supporters.

Contact group members Thursday told of credible reports that the man recently appointed prime minister by President Ravalomanana had been taken from a hotel in Antananarivo by security forces and beaten.

Peace and Security Commissioner Lamamra called security conditions 'dangerous'. But he said the contact group chose not to address specific violent incidents, focusing instead on the general breakdown of law and order.

"We condemned very firmly the repression and acts of violence directed against demonstrators and called on interested parties to abide by respect due to fundamental freedoms and human rights," he said.

The ouster of President Ravalomanana has been widely condemned by the international community. Both the African Union and the Southern African Development Community suspended Madagascar's membership until constitutional order is restored.

AU Special Envoy Oudreagou and his UN counterpart Tiebile Drame are to leave for Madagascar within days to try to initiate a dialogue that would include Madagascar's four most politically prominent families.