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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 19:40 GMT
Eyewitness: Madagascar's carnival coup
The inauguration was welcomed with deafening cheers
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By Alastair Leithead
in Antananarivo

The atmosphere in Madagascar was the same as it has been for weeks now, tens of thousands of people partying for a new president.

Judges and magistrates at the ceremony
Judges and magistrates lent the proceedings an air of legality.

The ceremony at the national football stadium could have been a carnival or a pop concert.

But as main opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana proclaimed himself president of the Indian Ocean island, this became a Malagasy coup d'etat.

Mr Ravalomanana's inauguration was welcomed with deafening cheers from the 100,000 or so who had gathered in the stadium from first light.

And thousands more crowded outside, or lined the narrow streets that wind their way up the main hill in Antananarivo, offering a bird's eye view of the stadium.

'A feeling of legality'

Hymns, pop songs and Mr Ravalomanana's signature tune for his campaign blasted out of the hastily erected speakers - he only announced this ceremony would take place on Wednesday.

Leaders of the four churches in Madagascar and dignitaries and politicians who have supported the opposition presidential candidate since the elections in December lined the podium.

A group of lawyers and magistrates lent the proceedings an air of legality.

President Didier Ratsiraka
The president believes the inauguration is illegal and unconstitutional

As far as the government and incumbent president Didier Ratsiraka, are concerned this whole inauguration ceremony is not only illegal but unconstitutional.

The High Constitutional Court alone can inaugurate a president.

But there are questions about how the HCC will react, with rumours of a change of mind.

Mr Ravalomanana's own legal team swore him in and placed a red sash and golden cross over his shoulders, crowning him president.

The crowd erupted, the red, white and green Malagasy flags rippling across the sea of Ravalomanana T-shirts.

A Mexican wave around the stadium held up proceedings as the people whistled and cheered their support.

As the self-declared president left the stadium, people flooded out after him, piling through the streets of Antananarivo.

Fears for the future

It may be a carnival atmosphere and a day of celebration for the people, but at the back of everyone's mind is what happened last time the people tried to overthrown President Didier Ratsiraka in 1991.

Crush of opposition supporters
The country seems to have passed the point of no return

His presidential guard opened fire on the demonstrators and as many as 100 people were killed.

As the party goes on, people are waiting to see exactly what happens next.

The government had said it would not accept this coup d'etat and will act.

Just what that means will determine how peaceful this takeover will turn out to be.

But given the huge scale of the people-power movement, the country seems to have passed the point of no return.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead
"It had all the trimmings, everything you'd expect from a proper ceremony"
See also:

20 Feb 02 | Africa
'Power seized' in Madagascar
14 Feb 02 | Africa
Madagascar's capital 'cut off'
15 Feb 02 | Business
Election row sours Malagasy success
12 Feb 02 | Africa
Call to postpone Madagascar poll
11 Feb 02 | Africa
OAU chief in Madagascar
09 Feb 02 | Africa
Madagascar vote 'rigged'
05 Feb 02 | Africa
'Ghost day' in Madagascar
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