Madagascar strongman heads for talks despite mutiny

3 killedin Sunday's mutiny put down by the army

Madagascar's strongman Andry Rajoelina said a weekend mutiny would not derail landmark face-to-face talks with his ousted rival Marc Ravalomanana, as he left Monday for the Seychelles meeting.

Three people were killed Sunday in the mutiny that was put down by paramilitary police and soldiers near the airport in the capital Antananarivo.

The mutiny forced the cancellation of flights Sunday, but Rajoelina appeared there early Monday to head to Seychelles for critical talks with Ravalomanana, the elected leader he ousted in 2009.

"This will be a face-to-face with Marc Ravalomanana," he told reporters before departing.

"I will speak sincerely, and I am ready to resolve the crisis and to face the Seychelles meeting, even if there has been disruptive behaviour to create problems within the country," Rajoelina said.

"This will not stop me from dealing with the crisis or from leaving for this meeting," he said.

"What we should know is that the divisions, disruptions and everything that is designed to overthrow the government, it's not the first time that this has happened."

"What's sad is that security forces' lives were lost," he added.

The 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is mediating in the crisis, is expected to bring the two men face-to-face on Wednesday.

The two last year signed a "roadmap" toward elections, but the deal has yet to be fully implemented. SADC has imposed a July 31 deadline for the two rivals to settle their differences, so that a timetable for elections could be unveiled next week.

The army regularly intervenes in Madgascar's politics. Rajoelina took power three years ago with the military's blessing.

Defence Minister Andre Lucien Rakotoarimasy said Sunday that the mutineers had not made any clear demands.

An opposition radio station, Free FM, on Sunday had broadcast remarks from one soldier declaring that the mutiny was a coup, announcing "the dissolution of the current state institutions and the installation of a military directorate".

The communications ministry on Monday accused the station of complicity in a plot against the government, warning that Free FM could face criminal charges.

The incident came as Madagascar inches toward a referendum on a new constitution that would allow Rajoelina, a former disc jockey and once Antananarivo's mayor, to extend his term as head of state.

One of the main obstacles is to establish conditions for Ravalomanana's eventual return from his exile in South Africa -- one of the conditions of the roadmap.
In 2010, Ravalomanana was sentenced in absentia to life in prison and hard labour for the murders of around 30 demonstrators killed by his presidential guard in 2009 protests that led to his overthrow.

Terms of a possible amnesty have roiled negotiations all year.

He has twice tried to return to Madagascar, but officials there have both times prevented him and his wife from entering the country.

Ravalomanana was separately served with a summons last week over a $23 million lawsuit filed by victims of the February 2009 unrest and is expected to appear in a South African court on August 1.
 

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