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Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 23:23 GMT 00:23 UK
Madagascar rivals sign peace deal
Blown up bridge at Fianarantsoa
Violence has been spreading across the island
The two men claiming the presidency of Madagascar have signed a deal designed to end their bitter power struggle.

President Didier Ratsiraka and self-declared president Marc Ravalomanana agreed that a recount of last December's disputed election should be held.

Marc Ravalomanana
Ravalomanana rejected the official results
The agreement was signed in Senegal, where the two rivals have been holding peace talks mediated by African leaders.

More than 35 people have been killed in a conflict which has left Madagascar with rival governments, two capitals and splits in the armed forces.

On Wednesday, the Madagascar Supreme Court annulled the officially announced election result, which gave neither candidate an outright win, and ordered the authorities to re-examine it.

Concessions

The accord signed in Dakar notes that if no clear winner emerges after the recount, a referendum will take place in the next six months, held with the assistance of the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity.

Riot in Antananarivo
More than 35 people have been killed
The population of Madagascar will again face a straight choice between Mr Ratsiraka and Mr Ravalomanana.

In the interim, Mr Ratsiraka retains the presidency of Madagascar, but there will be substantial concessions for his challenger.

Mr Ravalomanana will head a higher council of transition which will supervise the work of a transitional government of national reconciliation.

Mr Ravalomanana will have the right to choose the minister of interior and the minister of finance in that administration, while the two leaders will have to agree on a mutually acceptable prime minister.

The agreement calls for an end to all violence in Madagascar. Roadblocks are to be removed, and the security of people and property respected.

"That pill will be very difficult to swallow for the hundreds of thousands who sacrificed themselves to back [Ravalomanana] during the daily protests and general strike," one foreign observer said.

"We're worried that extremists in both camps who don't want an agreement will try some last-minute provocation," a political analyst said in relation to the lifting of roadblocks.

Supporters of Mr Ratsiraka based in the port city of Tamatave have imposed an economic blockade on the capital, Antananarivo, which is controlled by Mr Ravalomanana.

This has led to shortages of fuel and essential commodities in Antananarivo.

Rising violence

The conflict has grown increasingly bloody in recent weeks.

Didier Ratsiraka
Ratsiraka said he remained a pragmatist
Earlier this week three people, including a general loyal to Mr Ratsiraka, were killed in the key town of Fianarantsoa, south of Antananarivo.

And at the weekend, five soldiers died and 18 others were injured in a struggle for control of the town.

Last week, one person was killed and about 40 others were wounded in clashes in the northern town of Mahajanga.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Chris Simpson
"The agreement calls for an end to all violence in Madagascar"
The BBC's Alistair Leithead
"At least a dozen people have been killed"
See also:

19 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar's flawed accord
17 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar court annuls election
15 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar violence spreads north
05 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar 'at war'
05 Mar 02 | Africa
Madagascar 'rival capital' named
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