Rajoelina offers fresh start

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Antananarivo - Madagascar's president Andry Rajoelina said on Tuesday he would not run in May elections, bowing to international pressure to give the island nation a fresh start after the coup that brought him to power.

The impoverished country has been in crisis since then-opposition leader Rajoelina ousted Marc Ravalomanana in a 2009 uprising that scared off investors and devastated the vital tourism industry.

Regional powers have since pressed Rajoelina, a former disc jockey, to stand aside to prevent any repeat of the turmoil during this year's presidential vote.

“I will not stand in the presidential elections. I prefer to sacrifice myself rather than sacrifice 22 million Malagasy people. We want peace,” Rajoelina said in a speech.

Ousted leader Ravalomanana, a wealthy businessman, had already agreed not to stand again, saying in December he wanted the country to rebuild itself. No other major candidates have yet come forward.

Foreign companies have been wary of committing to investment in Madagascar's oil, gold, chrome and nickel reserves since the revolt and tourism numbers have fallen.

The island is due to hold presidential elections on May 8, and has set aside July 3 for a possible run-off. Parliamentary elections are also scheduled on July 3.

Rajoelina called for parliamentary elections to be held before the presidential vote to avoid logistical problems.

“Parliamentary elections should come before presidential elections. That will sort things out. Twinned elections risk causing problems,” he said.

Rajoelina led demonstrations against Ravalomanana in early 2009, accusing the him of political repression and criticising his plans to lease large tracts of land to the Korean company Daewoo.

A general strike in the capital turned into deadly protests before the army stepped in and backed Rajoelina.

Ravalomanana was sentenced in absentia to life in prison after his was accused of ordering elite troops to kill Rajoelina's supporters.

Countries from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) brokered a deal in September 2011 which confirmed Rajoelina as president and allowed for the unconditional return of Ravalomanana from self-imposed exile in South Africa.

But the plan has been beset by disagreements, including over whether Ravalomanana should be imprisoned if he returns home.

SADC leaders urged both men not to stand in May vote. - Reuters

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