The African Union has suspended Madagascar's membership, calling the change of government in Antanananarivo an unconstitutional coup.  Madagascar could face sanctions unless a new government is elected within six months.

The African Union Peace and Security Council Friday emphatically rejected Andry Rajoelina's rise to power in Madagascar.  The announcement was made by the council's acting chairman, Burkina Faso's Ambassador Bruno Nongoma Zidouemba.

"The council is of the opinion that what occurred in Madagascar enters in the definition of unconstitutional change of government. The council then decided in conformity with the text of the African Union to suspend the participation of  Madagascar to the bodies and organs of the AU," he said.

Mr. Rajoelina, the mayor of Antanananarivo, claimed the presidency on Wednesday and dissolved parliament Thursday after President Marc Ravalomanana was forced to resign. The island nation's Constitutional Court approved the handover of power.

The African Union recently suspended two other members, Mauritania and Guinea after military coups. In Madagascar's case, Mr. Rajoelina is a civilian. But acting PSC chairman Zidouemba said the same rules apply.

"It can be interpreted as a coup. In this case case a coup isn't only a military coup," he said. "In this case we have a situation where a civilian and military coup has taken place in Madagascar."

Ambassador Zidouemba said the Peace and Security Council will review Madagascar's case in six months, and will impose sanctions unless constitutional rule is restored.

The United States and the European Union have both denounced the transfer of power in Antanananarivo.  A State Department spokesman said Washington is reviewing its options for relations with the island nation.

The United States gave Madagascar more than $86 million in aid during the last fiscal year.

The 15-nation Southern African Regional Development Community SADC earlier said it would not recognize Mr. Rajoelina as president.

Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island, is a former French colony.