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Saturday, 23 February, 2002, 12:13 GMT
Tension rises in Madagascar
Supporters of opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana
Opposition supporters celebrated into the night
Hundreds of people in Madagascar have formed a human shield around the house of opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana, vowing to protect him from possible arrest.

Marc Ravalomanana at Friday's 'inauguration' rally
Mr Ravalomanana insists he won December's polls
Many more have converged on the capital, Antananarivo, defying a state of emergency imposed by President Didier Ratsiraka after Mr Ravalomanana declared himself president.

Mr Ratsiraka is reported to have left the capital for his stronghold in the east of the island, says the BBC's Alastair Leithead, reporting from Madagascar.

It is the latest confrontation in the ongoing dispute over December's presidential election, which Mr Ravalomanana won, but not by the required majority needed to avoid a second round.

The millionaire mayor of Antananarivo insists he won outright, and has refused to participate in the run-off originally scheduled Sunday, and now postponed until 24 March.

Cordon Armed with clubs, Mr Ravalomanana's supporters have blocked off the roads to his home with makeshift barricades.

Crisis timeline
16 Dec - Presidential election held
7 Jan - Opposition claim rigging, begin daily protests
16 Jan - Court orders vote recount
25 Jan - Result announced, run-off ordered
28 Jan - Opposition strike begins
22 Feb - Ravalomanana declares himself president, PM announces state of emergency

Tens of thousands have thronged the streets of the capital in a mass show of support for Mr Ravalomanana - the latest in an almost daily demonstration since the disputed poll.

The emergency measures - for a period of three months - were announced by Prime Minister Tantely Andrianarivo after the opposition leader told hundreds of thousands of supporters he was now leading the country.

Demonstrations are banned and the government is empowered to requisition all public services and take total control over the media, the post and telephone service.

'Unilateral'

Mr Ratsiraka has said that the opposition leader's campaign is illegal and unconstitutional.

The United States also criticised Mr Ravalomanana's unilateral move and urged him to reconsider his actions.

President Didier Ratsiraka
President Ratsiraka denies the counting was rigged
Talks chaired by the Organisation of African Unity to settle the stalemate over the elections and the widespread evidence of fraud have failed to produce an agreement.

Since December's elections, there have been weeks of strikes in support of Mr Ravalomanana in Antananarivo, where he enjoys widespread support.

But officials had said earlier that they would not let Mr Ravalomanana take power.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Alastair Leithead
"Tensions are rising in Madagascar's capital city"
Madagascar opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana
"We used all possibilities for negotiation"
See also:

22 Feb 02 | Africa
State of emergency in Madagascar
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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