Former prime minister sentenced to hard labour

Madagascar's former prime minister Tantely Andrianarivo was this week sentenced to 12 years hard labour and fined US $7 million for abuse of office, news reports said.

Andrianarivo's lawyers condemned the severity of the sentence and said they would appeal to the supreme court, the BBC reported.

Andrianarivo led the government of former president Didier Ratsiraka who fled the country last year. Andrianarivo was convicted of illegally withdrawing over US $7 million from government coffers and endangering state security.

He had been in detention for more than a year and earlier this month was transferred to a hospital after suffering from exhaustion.

Madagascar was divided by a six-month power struggle between Ratsiraka and the current President Marc Ravalomanana, both of whom claimed to have won elections in 2001.

Ratsiraka is currently living in France, the former colonial power, and was sentenced in absentia to 10 years hard labour, but Madagascar has not sought his extradition.

Meanwhile the government denied an accusation by Amnesty International that Andrianarivo's prosecution had been marred by irregularities, with his lawyers not given enough time to prepare a proper defence.

"Amnesty has made a baseless accusation," Reuters quoted justice minister Alice Rajaonah as saying on Wednesday.

Amnesty was also concerned over Andrianarivo's poor health, apparently related to his prison conditions.

Rajaonah responded: "The health of the accused was at the centre of our concerns ... Everyone saw that the former prime minister carried himself relatively well [in court] but that, like anyone after a long day in court, he looked tired at certain moments."