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US Expresses Concern about Political Situation in Madagascar - 2002-02-23

The United States has expressed its objections to the attempt by Madagascar's opposition leader, Marc Ravalomanana, to declare himself president, and is urging restraint on the part of all parties to the country's election dispute, which has been underway since voting in mid-December.

U.S. concern about the political situation in the Indian Ocean island nation was reflected in a cautionary note to members of the small American community there, and an appeal for support for efforts by the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations to find a solution to the election crisis.

On Friday, opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana declared himself president at a stadium packed with supporters.

Only hours later, President Didier Ratsiraka, who ran against him in the disputed December 16 election, declared a three-month state of emergency, giving him sweeping powers including control of the nation's media.

Briefing reporters here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States "objects" to the action taken by the opposition leader and wants all parties to the dispute to act with care:

"We urge Mr. Ravalomanana and all parties to consider carefully the repercussions that extra-legal or violent actions could have on Madagascar's future and its relationship with the international community," said Mr. Boucher. "We urge the parties in the current political dispute to resume discussions to allow a free and fair presidential election to go forward."

Mr. Boucher said United States commends resolution efforts by both the OAU and the United Nations and supports their continuation.

Opposition leader Ravalomanana insists he won the December election with an absolute majority and accuses the president of rigging the vote count to force a second round of voting late next month.

His self-inauguration also drew criticism from, among others, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, France and the European Union.

The State Department advisory urged U.S. citizens in Madagascar to exercise extreme caution in the next few days because of the political developments, though Mr. Boucher said the U.S. embassy there reports all Americans are safe and that there were no signs of unusual military activity.