Madagascan Armed Forces Refuse to Join Coup Attempt by Officers

Madagascar’s armed forces refused to rally round an attempted coup by army officers opposed to President Andry Rajoelina, after a referendum on a new constitution that opponents say may be used to extend his rule.

Twenty months after helping Rajoelina take power, the group of senior army officials yesterday called for the government to be dissolved in a declaration distributed from a base near the capital, Antananarivo.

“The declaration was made by 20 or so members of the armed forces,” Colonel Philibert Ratovonirina, head of communications for the army, said by phone. “But, there was no coup. The government and security forces will stop this.”

Madagascar has been in diplomatic and economic isolation since Rajoelina, the 36-year-old former mayor of Antananarivo, ousted his predecessor President Marc Ravalomanana in March 2009 with the aid of the military. Yesterday’s declaration, signed by ex Defense Minister Noel Rakotonandrasanana and Colonel Charles Andrianasoaviana, the head of the Special Intervention Force, called for exiles such as Ravalomanana to be allowed back into the country.

Rajoelina denounced the coup attempt on national radio and said he would not step down.

The dissidents “are already surrounded” at the residential base of the first battalion at Ivato, near the airport, said Colonel Didier Randrianary in a phone interview. “There will be an arrangement between the military forces to prevent a blood bath.”

Economic Crisis

Madagascar was suspended from the African Union and had all non-humanitarian aid cut after Rajoelina seized power last year. Foreign aid previously accounted for about two thirds of fiscal spending.

The Indian Ocean island’s economy will contract 2 percent this year, the only African economy to shrink, according to forecasts by the International Monetary Fund. The world’s biggest exporter of vanilla had a gross domestic product of $8.55 billion in 2009 and a population of 22.1 million, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook.

The coup attempt came as voting ending in the referendum on a new constitution that the government hopes will end the 20-month political and economic crisis. Rajoelina has scheduled parliamentary and presidential elections for next year.

Opposition Boycott

The opposition boycotted yesterday’s poll, saying a “Yes” vote will be used by Rajoelina to prolong his presidency. The constitutional changes include a reduction in the minimum age of the president to 35 from 40, enabling Rajoelina to stand in future elections. Neither does the new charter set a deadline for the handover of power to a democratically elected government.

“One of the government’s concerns is the lack of popular legitimacy,” said Harotsilavo Rakotoson, a lawyer and “No” campaigner. “They will use a positive result to pretend they have been elected by Madagascar’s people.”

Rajoelina’s administration reneged on a power-sharing accord brokered last year by international mediators.

Two of the military officer’s behind the coup attempt had helped Rajoelina take power in March last year, said Ratovonirina. “They have detached from the transitional government and have now gone with the opposition parties of the ex presidents,” he said.

Colonel Randrianary said the coup attempt may lead to a political agreement to end the crisis. “This will push those who currently hold power to share power in the future,” he said.

There aren’t any demonstrations in Antananarivo, Richard Ravalomanana, head of security in the capital, said by phone.

“The army isn’t united,” Lydie Boka, the director of Paris-based StrategiCo., a risk analysis group, said by phone. “It’s a situation which is very unstable even if it’s not clear this is actually going to work as a coup.”

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