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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Madagascar cautious on peace deal
Marc Ravalomanana declared himself president in February 2002
December's presidential votes are to be recounted
People in Madagascar have cautiously welcomed an agreement reached between the island's rival presidents to defuse their increasingly violent power struggle.

Correspondents say most people are optimistic but want to see how the deal will be implemented in practice and whether the promises made at talks in Senegal will be kept.

The two men - incumbent President Didier Ratsiraka and his rival Marc Ravalomanana - agreed on a recount of the disputed election in December, which Mr Ravalomanana maintains he won outright.

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 (OAU).

But Mr Ravalomanana's "prime minister", Jacques Sylla, told journalists in Antananarivo that Mr Ravalomanana would not step down as "president" of Madagascar until the release of the official results of the December vote.

"Marc Ravolamanana remains president until a fresh count of the votes is completed and the official results are published," Mr Sylla said.

Vital supplies

Correspondents say the most important test of faith in the agreement is whether Mr Ratsiraka carries out his promise to remove blockades around the capital, Mr Ravalomanana's power-base.

Mr Ratsiraka's supporters based in the port city of Tamatave have destroyed bridges on the road to Antananarivo.

Didier Ratsiraka
Ratsiraka is expected to remove roadblocks

Fuel and vital supplies have not been getting through and the once-booming textile industry has been devastated, leaving the economy in tatters.

If the blockades remain in place, the crisis could rumble on, raising fears of more of the violence seen over the last three weeks.

Businessman Olivier Ramaro said of the deal: "We don't know how it will affect the reality of life."

"For now, everything is calm, and that's the most important thing. People are less nervous than they were, they feel under less pressure," he said.

'Wait and see'

The people of Madagascar have reason to be cautious.

Last time Mr Ravalomanana and Mr Ratsiraka seemed to have come to an agreement, mediated by the OAU in February, Mr Ravalomanana declared himself president two days later.

"We just have to wait and see what this means," one Antananarivo resident said.

The BBC's Johnny Donovan in Antananarivo said people were somewhat confused about the peace deal and were waiting for details to filter through to them.

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

The BBC's Jonny Donovan
"People are very confused and news about the deal hasn't filtered through"
The BBC's Chris Simpson
"The agreement calls for an end to all violence in Madagascar"
See also:

19 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar's flawed accord
18 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar rivals sign peace deal
17 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar court annuls election
15 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar violence spreads north
05 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar 'at war'
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