Government officials in Madagascar [JURIST news archive] spoke Thursday with military officers who attempted a coup on Wednesday during the country's constitutional referendum. General Noel Rakotonandrasana allegedly led a group of about 20 soldiers into the capital city and tried to take control [NYT report] of government institutions and seize power from President Andry Rajoelina [official profile, in French; BBC profile] on the same day that citizens voted to amend the constitution. Thirty-six-year-old Rajoelina, who came to power [JURIST report] last year after a military coup, organized the national referendum [Guardian report] to change the president's minimum age requirement in Madagascar's constitution [text] from 40 to 35 years of age, so that he could run in the next presidential election. Former president Marc Ravalomanana [BBC profile], who was ousted last year by Rajoelina, supported the military action [AFP report] and saw it as an effort to promote democracy. The capital city has been operating normally as the soldiers stay nearby at a military base, despite threats [Reuters report] to take over the presidential palace and the international airport.
Madagascar has faced ongoing political unrest [Reuters timeline] for almost two years, and Rajoelina's regime has not been recognized by the international community. In August, a Madagascar court sentenced [JURIST report] Ravalomanana to life in prison with hard labor for ordering the killing of opposition protesters in February 2009. Ravalomanana, who has been living in South Africa since his overthrow in March of last year, was sentenced in absentia [BBC report] on charges of murder and accessory to murder in connection with the deaths of at least 30 people by his presidential guard. Ravalomanana has been convicted [JURIST report] three times since he left power, and his lawyer claimed that the trials have been politically motivated to keep him from returning to Madagascar and running for reelection. Earlier in August, the country's political parties gave proposed names [AFP report] for the country's next prime minister to Rajoelina and scheduled yesterday's constitutional referendum, parliamentary elections in March and a first round of presidential polls next May.