Madagascar

Madagascar gov't threatens opposition crackdown

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* Government will not tolerate opposition troublemakers

* Says will stick to election plan

* AU's Ping to visit Madagascar from Jan. 22

By Richard Lough

ANTANANARIVO, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Madagascar's government has said it will crack down on opposition leaders and their supporters, who reject plans for elections, if they provoke further civil unrest.

Prime Minister Colonel Camille Vital said anti-government protesters vandalised private property and disrupted traffic in the capital Antananarivo during clashes with security forces on Wednesday.

"It is unacceptable to take to the streets to disturb the public order and destroy the property of others," Vital said in a televised statement late on Wednesday.

"If this continues, we will take draconian measures on those who continue to go too far."

Madagascar's year-long political crisis risks deteriorating further as the Indian Ocean island's leader, Andry Rajoelina, forges ahead with unilateral plans for parliamentary elections, weeks after a power-sharing government appeared within grasp.

Major foreign companies including oil giant Exxon Mobil <XOM.N> have been unsettled by the political fallout following the overthrow of Marc Ravalomanana in March last year.

The instability has led to a decline in exploration activities and a delay in the auctioning of dozens of offshore oil fields, officials say. [ID:nGEE5B30CI]

The African Union (AU) has urged African nations and foreign powers to redouble efforts to resolve the deadlock between the nation's bickering power-brokers. [ID: nLDE605179]

The Chairman of the AU Commission, Jean Ping, will visit the world's fourth largest island eyed by investors for its oil, nickel, cobalt and uranium from Jan. 22-25.

Ping will present the feuding parties with a compromise to the deadlock over the make-up of a consensus government. They will then have two weeks to respond, said a statement issued by the International Contact Group (ICG) for Madagascar following a meeting in Addis Ababa on Wednesday.

While the opposition welcomed the AU's insistence on sticking to the power-sharing formula, the government was quick to dismiss it.

"We stick to our plan. In any case, they (ICG members) have no understanding of the realities here," government spokesman Augustin Andriamananoro told Reuters. (Additional reporting by Alain Iloniaina; Editing by Charles Dick)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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