Maputo - Madagascar's present and past leaders were expected to begin negotiating in earnest Thursday at landmark talks in Mozambique about how to end political unrest on the Indian Ocean island.
Madagascar's interim president Andry Rajoelina and his rival Marc Ravalomanana held their first face-to-face talks in Maputo Wednesday since the military-backed Rajoelina forced Ravalomanana from office in March - after weeks of demonstrations.
They were joined from France by exiled ex-dictator Didier Ratsiraka and from Madagascar by another former president, Albert Zafy. The four men represent the island's main political movements.
Opening the three days of talks, chief mediator, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, expressed hopes the negotiations would lead to "an enduring peace and the launch of a secure platform for positive change in Madagascar."
"I feel that everybody (all four leaders) wants the best for the people of Madagascar, albeit with different points of view about how to achieve it," he said.
The island of around 20 million people, mostly subsistence farmers, has been wracked by protests - initially against Ravalomanana, now against Rajoelina - since January.
Both SADC and the African Union have suspended Madagascar from their ranks, saying Rajoelina's rout of the democratically-elected Ravalomanana was tantamount to a coup.
The broader international community has also refused to recognize Rajoelina's leadership.
The Maputo meeting is aimed at forging consensus between the parties on how to move beyond the impasse, including the formation of a new, inclusive transitional government and the drafting of a new constitution.
Rajoelina has said he is open to a negotiated solution but is refusing to allow Ravalomanana, who was convicted in absentia of abuse of office and sentenced to four years in prison, return to the island. (dpa)
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