Wed, Mar 18, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Madagascar president steps down

AGENCIES , ANTANANARIVO

Marc Ravalomanana has resigned as Madagascar’s president and transferred power to the military, diplomats said yesterday on condition of anonymity.

”The order signed by Ravalomanana transfers the powers of the president and the prime minister to a military board,” one diplomat said.

Several other sources confirmed the 59-year-old leader’s resignation.

“Apparently the president is handing over to the military and is going to make a declaration,” an aide said in a text message to journalists. Contacted by telephone, the aide declined to give further details.

Weeks of turmoil and protests, led by young opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, have killed 135 people on Madagascar, crippled tourism and scared foreign investors in the mining and oil exploration sectors.

In a further sign that he was assuming power, Rajoelina led supporters into the presidential palace in Antananarivo after a rally in which he declared eight of Ravalomanana’s ministers had resigned due to the crisis.

Presidential guards and hundreds of supporters are protecting Ravalomanana at another palace which is his residence on the outskirts of Antananarivo. He had vowed to fight to the death if pro-opposition soldiers try to drive him from power.

On Monday, Madagascar’s traditionally neutral army threw its weight behind Rajoelina and stormed a presidential palace in the heart of Antananarivo. It also seized the central bank.

Tanks and scores of soldiers guarded the buildings yesterday. Though bracing for possible violence, Malagasy still sought to go about their business, with schools staying open and some people opening shops and going to work as normal.

Rajoelina, a 34-year-old former disc jockey and sacked mayor of Antananarivo, has been calling for Ravalomanana’s resignation since the start of this year and now wants him arrested. He calls the president a dictator running Madagascar like a private firm.

“Many ministers have handed in their resignation to me,” Rajoelina told 10,000 supporters at a rally, naming eight. The crowd chanted: “President, president!” at the opposition leader who says he is now the de facto leader of Madagascar.

The African Union, whose next summit was scheduled to take place in Madagascar, said it would not accept any unconstitutional change of government. And the EU has said it would cut aid to anyone coming to power by force.

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