Madagascar leader dismisses mutiny, heads to talks

Jul 23, 2012, 3:21 PM

Associated Press

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP) – Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina said Monday a weekend mutiny by soldiers that turned violent will not deter him from holding talks with his main opponent, seeking to stabilize the nation.

The Sunday mutiny “doesn’t stop me from seeking solutions for the country,” Rajoelina said as he left the Indian Ocean island nation for talks in the Seychelles with his predecessor Marc Ravalomanana.

In 2009, Rajoelina ousted Ravalomanana, who now lives in exile in South Africa.

Rajoelina told reporters at the airport the mutiny was the third attempt to topple him since he took power. He currently leads a unity government charged with preparing for elections next year.

Tuesday’s meeting in the Seychelles was arranged by mediators of the regional economic and political bloc, the Southern African Development Community.

Two government soldiers and the mutiny leader were killed Sunday and several mutineers were arrested, the military said. One of the dead was an officer sent to negotiate with the rebel soldiers.

The mutineers took over a military camp near Antananarivo’s Ivato airport early Sunday. Gunfire was heard in the vicinity through Sunday afternoon after the military launched an assault to retake the base. The airport was shut down.

Military official Gen. General Lucien Rakotoarimasy said Monday investigations into the mutiny were continuing and the fate of captured mutineers would likely be decided in about a week. He gave no further information to reporters at a news conference broadcast on national radio.

The defense ministry said the mutiny was led by Koto Mainty, a bodyguard of former Defense Minister Noel Rakotonandrasana who was jailed after taking part in another mutiny in 2010.

Madagascar has been shaken by political turmoil and violence since Rajoelina, the former opposition leader, ousted Ravalomanana.

Ravalomanana last year was convicted in absentia of conspiracy to commit murder in a case related to the turmoil during the overthrow that forced him to leave, with a court handing him a life sentence. Ravalomanana called the tribunal illegitimate. He has tried to return to Madagascar, but so far without success.

The East African island is hilly and lush with rice paddies. It is renowned for its rain forests that feature a rare level of biodiversity, including endemic lemurs. The country’s tourism industry, however, has been badly hit by the political turmoil, further battering a nation that still features among the world’s poorest countries.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Madagascar leader dismisses mutiny, heads to talks