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Page last updated at 19:47 GMT, Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Madagascar president forced out

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Andry Rajoelina enters the presidential palace

Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana has said he is standing down and handing power to the military.

Meanwhile military leaders said they were conferring full powers on 34-year-old opposition leader Andry Rajoelina.

Mr Rajoelina has installed himself in the president's offices, seized on Monday by pro-opposition troops.

The BBC's Jonah Fisher in Madagascar says that while it seems clear Mr Ravalomanana is ceding power, there is confusion about who is now in charge.


We need calm and peace to develop our country
Marc Ravalomanana
Navy admiral Hyppolite Ramaroson told journalists in the capital, Antananarivo, that the military was giving full powers to Mr Rajoelina "to become president of the high transitional authority".

"We have categorically rejected the [military] authority that [Mr] Ravalomanana asked us to set up after his resignation," he said.

However, it is not clear whether the decision to transfer power to Mr Rajoelina is backed by the whole army.

Dramatic victory

The crisis on the Indian Ocean island has left 100 people dead since January.

MADAGASCAR KEY FACTS
File photo of lemurs in Madagascar
World's fourth largest island
Biodiversity hotspot
Exposed to tropical cyclones
Population 20 million
70% live on less than $1 a day
French colony until 1960
World's No 1 vanilla producer

The African Union and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) have condemned any direct seizure of power by Mr Rajoelina.

"We don't think anybody has the right to unseat an elected government by force," Botswanan Foreign Minister Phando Skelemani told the BBC, speaking on behalf of SADC.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed grave concern at the unrest in Madagascar, appealing to all parties to ensure a "smooth transition".

In a radio address announcing his resignation Mr Ravalomanana said he had decided to give up power after "deep reflection".

"This decision was very difficult and very hard, but it had to be made. We need calm and peace to develop our country," he said.

Mr Ravalomanana's resignation marks a dramatic victory for Mr Rajoelina, who was sacked as mayor of the capital in February.

Relief

The former disc jockey took up office at the presidential residence in central Antananarivo on Tuesday before emerging triumphantly to parade among thousands of supporters.

He has announced there will be a new constitution and elections within 24 months.

Map

The current constitution sets a minimum age of 40 for presidential candidates. Mr Rajoelina is 34.

Earlier, a number of government ministers quit, as power ebbed away from the president.

Our correspondent says the mood on the streets was one of relief following fears of a bloody last stand if Mr Ravalomanana had continued to cling to power.

Mr Ravalomanana had said he was ready to fight to the death at the Iavoloha palace, about 15km (nine miles) from the city centre.

On Monday, Mr Rajoelina, who has declared himself president, rejected Mr Ravalomanana's offer of a referendum to solve the crisis and called for his arrest.

Later that day, troops stormed the presidential residence in the centre of the capital and also seized the central bank.

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

But 70% of the 20 million population still lives on less than $1 (0.7) a day and correspondents say the opposition has tapped into popular frustration at the failure of this new wealth to trickle down.

Mr Rajoelina had said the president has been a tyrant who misspent public money but Mr Ravalomanana's supporters said his rival is a young troublemaker who has not offered any policy alternatives.


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