Foreign diplomats shun swearing-in of Madagascar's president

Thousands of supporters cheered the installation of Madagascar's new army-backed leader Andry Rajoelina on Saturday, but foreign dignitaries shunned the swearing-in ceremony.

Madagascar's new president was sworn in Saturday in a ceremony shunned by the international community.

Former opposition leader Andry Rajoelina takes part in his inauguration ceremony as the new president of Madagascar. ((Wang Lu/Xinhua/AP))

Thousands of supporters turned up at a sports stadium in the capital, Antananarivo, for the swearing-in of Andry Rajoelina. African radio stations broadcasting the inauguration live said no foreign diplomats attended the ceremony.

The African Union Peace and Security Council said Friday that Rajoelina's rise to power — backed by the military and the country's highest court — is illegitimate, unconstitutional and could be interpreted as a coup.

The former opposition leader, who at 34 is six years too young to run for president under the current constitution, saw power in his sights Monday after soldiers smashed into the presidential compound and let Rajoelina and his supporters take it over the next day.

Gen. Marc Ravalomanana, the former president, attempted to transfer power to a provisional military authority, but the army instead announced Tuesday it was transferring power to Rajoelina

On Wednesday, Madagascar's Constitutional Court issued a statement endorsing the takeover but provided no reasons. It simply said Rajoelina could serve as president and that Ravalomanana had vacated his presidential post.

The African Union responded to the change in government by suspending the island nation and former French colony. The AU recently suspended two other members, Mauritania and Guinea, after military coups.

The Peace and Security Council has said it will review Madagascar's case in six months and will impose sanctions unless constitutional rule is restored.

The transfer of power follows several weeks of opposition protests that have left more than 100 dead.

Rajoelina has announced there will be a new constitution and elections within 24 months.