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Delegates Prevent Madagascar Leader from Addressing UN General Assembly

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Several African leaders addressed the U.N. General Assembly Friday as the annual debate continued for a third day. But there was drama on the floor late in the afternoon when some African nations challenged the right of Madagascar's self-appointed president to address the assembly.

Madagascar's self-proclaimed president Andry Rajoelina was supposed to take the podium on Thursday, but did not appear after members of the South African Development Community (SADC) met with the President of the U.N. General Assembly and raised the issue of his participation.

Both the African Union and SADC have rejected Mr. Rajoelina's transitional government which came to power in March in a military-backed coup.

In a rare intervention in the Assembly hall, the foreign minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Alexis Mwamba, representing SADC, protested allowing Mr. Rajoelina to speak. "SADC would like to express its protest against the decision to invite Mr. Andry Rajoelina to take the floor at the general debate of our august assembly," he said.

He insisted the matter be voted on under the rules of procedure and the assembly decided Mr. Rajoelina should be deferred from taking the floor. But confusion reigned both during and after the vote, and it remained unclear whether the decision was the final word on the matter.

Earlier in the day, Somalia's President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed addressed the assembly for the first time since taking office in February.

He appealed for international support and assistance on the humanitarian and security fronts, and asked for more African Union peacekeepers in his conflict-torn country.

He said his government is determined to continue political dialogue that includes all Somali stakeholders, including armed groups. He is heard here through a translator. "We are determined to sit down at the table to negotiate with all these different stakeholders, even those who are against the government. And this could take place wherever most appropriate, in order to bring an end to the conflict in our country. We will spare no effort to bring an end to the political conflict, to find a lasting solution to protect our sovereignty, the security of our people and of our territory," he said.

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Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe demanded that the United States and European Union lift sanctions on his government, which he said are "illegal."  "If they will not assist the inclusive government in rehabilitating our economy, could they please, please stop their filthy, clandestine, divisive antics?"

Mr. Mugabe, who has held power since 1987, entered into a unity government with former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in February. But Mr. Tsvangirai has accused politicians loyal to Mr. Mugabe of continuing to violate laws and ignore international treaties, and critics say human rights violations and other abuses continue to take place.

Meanwhile, Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo assured the international community that there is "no political reason" why repeatedly delayed presidential elections will not go ahead in November. "And I would like to share with you our desire to do everything in our power to get out of this crisis via the ballot box," he said.

Beyond Africa, Pakistani President Ali Asif al-Zardari said "democracy is beginning to achieve successes in the fight against militancy" in his country. "Pakistan has firmly responded to the challenges of extremism and militancy. Democracy has given people ownership to fight against terrorism. Today our nation stands fully united in this struggle," he said.

He said the early return of peace and stability in neighboring Afghanistan is critical, and called for an end to the flow of weapons and money to militants across the region.

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