Page last updated at 12:08 GMT, Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Madagascar president 'to resign'


The BBC's Jonah Fisher at the presidential residence in central Antananarivo

Madagascan President Marc Ravalomanana is to stand down, sources in the president's office have told the BBC.

Mr Ravalomanana is to hand over power to the military a day after their capture by pro-opposition troops.

He told thousands of supporters eight government ministers had quit, as power seemed to ebb away from the president.

Mr Ravalomanana - who is taking refuge in his residence on the outskirts of the capital Antananarivo - said earlier he was ready to fight to the death.

There are unconfirmed reports that Mr Ravalomanana has resigned.

Unnamed diplomats told AFP news agency that the beleaguered president had quit.

Map of Antananarivo
Reuters news agency said it had received a text message from a presidential aide saying Mr Ravalomanana was to hand over power to the military.

The seven-week power struggle between the two men has spawned a military mutiny and violent protests that have left at least 100 people dead on the Indian Ocean island since January.

The BBC's Jonah Fisher in Antananarivo says it may be only a matter of time until the troops march on Mr Ravalomanana's other residence, 15km (nine miles) from the city centre.

He adds any attempt to seize the Iavoloha palace could be bloody if they meet resistance from the presidential guard and hundreds of Mr Ravalomanana's supporters, who have formed a human shield.

But the head of the pro-opposition army faction has said he does not want any bloodletting and would try to avoid confrontation.

Thousands of opposition supporters gathered in Antananarivo, chanting "president, president", reports Reuters news agency.

"Many ministers have handed in their resignation to me," Mr Rajoelina told them.

The African Union has condemned the opposition's "attempted coup d'etat", but Mr Rajoelina says the president has no right to stay in power.

Mr Ravalomanana was elected to a second term in office in 2006 and under him, Madagascar's economy has opened up to foreign investment, particularly in the mining sector.

But 70% of the 20 million population still lives on less than $2 (1.40) a day and correspondents say the opposition has tapped into popular frustration at the failure of this new wealth to trickle down

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