ADDIS ABABA, Feb 1 (Reuters) - The African Union (AU) has warned Madagascar’s opposition leader after he said he had taken power on the Indian Ocean island, stressing that the continental body’s rules on coups could not be broken.
A week of civil unrest on Madagascar has killed 100 people, according to the U.S. ambassador, in some of the worst violence the politically volatile nation has seen for years.
Opposition chief Andry Rajoelina, the 34-year-old mayor of the capital Antananarivo, told a rally on Saturday that he was now in charge of government. President Marc Ravalomanana, 59, denied that and told reporters he remained in charge.
Jean Ping, chairman of the AU Commission, told Reuters late on Saturday that his organisation’s rules on coups were clear.
“It’s totally forbidden to take power by non-constitutional means,” Ping said.
“So if a decision taken in Madagascar by one camp or the other is in conformity with the constitution it is no problem. If it is in violation of the constitution then the rules of the AU will apply,” he said.
“We ask them (the Malagasy people) to cool down, to keep talking and to solve their problems with negotiation.”
The AU has excluded Mauritania and Guinea, which both suffered military coups in recent months, from a three-day heads of state summit that starts in Ethiopia on Sunday.
AU officials said that proved the continent had moved on from its chequered past, when leaders were often criticised for failing to speak out against violent and tyrannical rule.
Madagascar’s Rajoelina has waged a campaign of strikes and public rallies against Ravalomanana’s government, which he accuses of abusing state powers and threatening democracy.
The political crisis is likely to hurt the huge island’s fast growing popularity as a safe destination for foreign investment and tourists.
Analysts say the president, who founded his business empire hawking yoghurt off the back of a bicycle, faces a serious challenge as Rajoelina has popular support.
Major foreign companies are investing in the island’s oil and mineral sectors, including Rio Tinto (RIO.L) and Sherritt International (S.TO), which plan to mine nickel, cobalt, bauxite and ilmenite. (Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Giles Elgood)