ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - A Madagascar court sentenced deposed leader Marc Ravalomanana in absentia on Saturday to forced labour for the deaths of dozens of protesters during a march on the presidential palace last year.
The verdict could open a fresh challenge to an African Union-backed effort to end the Indian Ocean island’s political crisis that followed Ravalomanana’s removal by President Andry Rajoelina.
“Marc Ravalomanana, General Heriniaina Roelina and Colonel Anatole Ramlamboarison are guilty of complicity to murder,” Raboana Rasamison Mauricette, the president of Antananarivo’s court, said.
“Each of them is condemned to a sentence of forced labour for the rest of their lives. An arrest warrant is out for them,” she added, reading out her ruling in court.
Rajoelina had called a march on the presidential palace on February 7 last year during which security forces opened fire, killing about 30 people.
“These charges should be declared null and void,” Ravalomanana, who lives in exile in South Africa, told Reuters. “It is the work of a regime that is abusing its office to settle political vendettas.”
Nineteen months of political turmoil have stunted economic growth on an island known for its deposits of oil, coal, uranium, chrome, nickel and cobalt. The economy is expected to expand by a mere 0.8 percent this year after a period of steady growth.
The main opposition leaders rejected a deal signed by Rajoelina with dozens of minor parties to end the crisis.
“I call on the international community to condemn the situation and intervene in the crisis,” Ravalomanana said.