Madagascar sets October 25 presidential poll date

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Madagascar will hold a much-delayed presidential election on October 25, organisers said Thursday, in a vote designed to end a deep political crisis prompted by a coup four years ago.

Parliamentary elections will follow on December 20, along with a second presidential round if the October vote does not deliver an outright winner, the electoral commission said.

The new dates follow two earlier postponements amid a lack of funding and controversy over the candidacies of three top contenders.

An electoral court on Saturday dropped the names of strongman Andry Rajoelina, the wife of his exiled rival Marc Ravalomanana, and a former president after the three refused to withdraw from the presidential race.

Former disc jockey Rajoelina ousted president Ravalomanana in an army-backed coup in 2009, plunging the Indian Ocean island nation in a protracted crisis.

Ravalomanana, a milk mogul who is living in exile in South Africa, has been blocked several times from returning home.

The poll will be one year behind schedule according to a 2011 agreement to return to political stability brokered by regional bloc the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Rajoelina, formerly also mayor of the capital Antananarivo, swore not to run for president, but threw his hat in the ring when Ravalomanana's wife Lalao declared she would be a candidate.

Both pose a legal problem, since Rajoelina submitted his candidacy after the deadline and Lalao Ravalomanana had not lived in Madagascar six months prior to the nominations as election rules require.

Another potential front-runner, former leader Didier Ratsiraka filed his candidacy papers two days after he returned from 11 years of exile in France.

He was president from 1975 to 1993 and again from 1997 to 2002.

International bodies including the SADC, the African Union, the European Union and former colonial masters France condemned their candidacies, which have delayed the much-awaited vote.

The AU said it would not recognise the winner if one of the three emerged the victor.

Earlier this month EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton had threatened sanctions against those blocking the polls, without elaborating.

She offered "renewed EU support" in the event of a vote being staged by the end of November.

Initially, Malagasy election organisers would not remove the three candidates from the list.

But a reconstituted court disqualified them last weekend along with five others who had given false information or had other irregularities on their applications.

All three camps have protested the move.

New polls will unblock much-needed foreign aid for the impoverished island which has been frozen over the crisis.