NO PROGRESS

MADAGASCAR'S two main political rivals locked horns yesterday over the formation of a unity government at the start of a second day of talks on issues sparked by last year's coup.

MADAGASCAR'S two main political rivals locked horns yesterday over the formation of a unity government at the start of a second day of talks on issues sparked by last year's coup.

Strongman Andry Rajoelina, the former mayor who took power with the army's backing in March last year, insisted the talks in South Africa had "little chance" of success.

"I think there is little chance of setting up a government of unity and solutions must be sought elsewhere," he told reporters as negotiations broke off with no apparent progress. "There is a gap between reality and the agreement that has been established," Rajoelina said.

But ousted president Marc Ravalomanana, now living in exile in South Africa, insisted he was not to blame for the deadlock and that the talks were still alive. "I enter the second day of peace talks with no pre-conditions, those needed to bring about free and fair elections in Madagascar," he said. "I am prepared to stay in Pretoria for as long as it takes to reach a deal acceptable to all."

The talks are the latest in a series between the Ravalomanana and Rajoelina factions, former presidents Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy. The four leaders signed a power-sharing agreement in November last year that was later spurned by Rajoelina, prompting African nations to slap travel and economic bans on him and his associates.

Former colonial power France and the 15-member SADC are mediating the talks aimed at setting up a government that would lead the vast Indian Ocean island towards elections.

Under the previous agreement, Rajoelina was to retain the presidency with two "co-presidents" from the other political formations.

The four rivals also agreed to form a transitional government ahead of elections. But Rajoelina has since spurned the accords, sacked a compromise minister and announced the country would hold elections.

Disagreements on the allocation of posts in the unity government also wrecked the implementation of the agreements. - Sapa-AFP, Jean-Jacques Cornish

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