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Madagascar Reacts Coolly to Call for Talks Over Crisis

Madagascar's transitional authority has given a cool response to a call by Southern African leaders to speed up negotiations aimed at ending its three month-old political crisis.

Political stalemate

Madagascar's political stalemate appeared no closer to ending one day after the leaders of the Southern African Development Community, SADC, called on its feuding politicians to resolve their dispute through dialogue.

In a communiqué, the leaders expressed concern over what was termed the deteriorating political situation in the country.

Political and economic activity have been disrupted since March when military officers forced then-President Marc Ravalomanana to resign and gave power to a transitional authority headed by the former mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina.

The head of SADC's security group, Swaziland's King Mswati III, said SADC wants the various parties to meet outside Madagascar as soon as possible.

"We, all of us, want to see Madagascar going back to restore its constitution," Mswati said. "The decision which was taken in Swaziland, we have not moved away from it, but we are using other strategies to move faster."

Recognizing the transitional authority

SADC refused to recognize the transitional authority and in March suspended Madagascar from the group at a special summit in Swaziland. The African Union and the regional customs union, COMESA, have done the same.

Talks mediated by the African groups, the United Nations and the association of French-speaking nations collapsed last week after Mr. Rajoelina's group resisted a call to allow Mr. Ravalomanana to return home.

A Malgasy court has sentenced Mr. Ravalomanana to four years in prison on corruption charges and has issued a warrant for his arrest if he returns.

The chairman of SADC, South African President Jacob Zuma, said SADC had appointed Mozambique's former president, Joaquim Chissano, to head a team of mediators.

"What SADC has decided to do is to try to pull together all the activities that are taking place under the leadership of the mediator with his team, President Chissano. So, yes, we have made contact. We have been talking to people there. This in other words, is a higher step than what we have been doing in the past," Zuma said.

Daily life in Madagascar has been disrupted by numerous public demonstrations. And the crisis has devastated its $400 million-a-year tourism industry.

In addition, some international donors, including the United States, have suspended non-humanitarian aid until the island nation returns to a constitutional government.