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France calls Marc Ravalomanana President of Madagascar - 2002-07-03

Foreign minister Dominique de Villepin signed the cooperation accords promising Aid to Madagascar with the Madagascan government officials during his visit to the island nation Wednesday. A foreign affairs official in Antananarivo described the move as Paris’ official recognition of Mr. Ravalomanana as Madagascar’s legitimate head of state. But officials in Paris were less forth-coming. They declined to state clearly France’s latest position on the new government in Antananarivo.

Official results from Madagascar's presidential election held in December last year gave Mr Ravalomanana 47 percent of the vote against then incumbent President Ratsiraka’s 41 percent.

Mr. Ravalomana contested the tally which necessitated a run off between the two leading candidates. However, he won a major boost in May when the country’s Supreme Court declared him as outright winner of the vote with over 50 percent of the vote.

However, the Organization of African Unity recommended new elections. Meanwhile, the United States and Japan have recently accepted Mr. Ravalomanana as president.

A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry (Wednesday) refused to answer questions from journalists about France’s stand on the issue but instead referred to a brief statement posted earlier in the week which said "Once the process of reconciliation starts, France will unfreeze the country’s public financial holdings and resume economic aid and the minister will go to Madagascar.“

The French Foreign Minister’s meetings came one day after troops loyal to Mr. Ravalomana took control of the nothern port of Antsiranana -–one of the last remaining strongholds of former leader Mr. Ratsiraka. Only the eastern port town of Toamasina remains under Mr. Ratsiraka’s control. France has been supporting an Organisation of African Unity (OAU) mediation process which started last April in Dakar, Senegal, under President Abdoulaye Wade and the Organisation’s Secretary General Amara Essy.

Under the Dakar reconciliation plan of June 9, Mr Ravalomanana and his rival Didier Ratsiraka were supposed to form a government of national unity with an equal number of representatives from either camp. An OAU supervised election was due to be held in six months to one year after a recount of the disputed votes arising from December polls. The OAU has maintained that it doesn’t recognise Mr. Ravalomanana as legitimate President of the Indian Ocean island nation.

Major setbacks to the reconciliation process include refusal by Mr Ratsiraka’s supporters to join Mr Ravalomanana’s national unity government. They fear reprisals from the veteran leader who still regards himself as legitimate President.

Mr Ratsiraka’s visit to France late last month was embroiled in a controversy over the interception of 14 French mercenaries by authorities in Tanzania. The mercenaries were said to be heading for Antananarivo on a mission to assassinate Mr Ravalomanana. They were travelling on a Falcon 900 plane which is officially used by Mr Ratsiraka. Authorities in Dar es Salaam however dismissed reports that the plane had been carrying French mercenaries en route to Antananarivo.