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Madagascar court backs handover

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Rajoelina supporters celebrate in the streets

Madagascar's highest court has backed the handover of power to interim leader Andry Rajoelina.

It comes a day after military leaders conferred powers to the 34-year-old when President Marc Ravalomanana quit.

But under the current constitution, the former disc jockey is six years too young to be elected president.

Zambia called for the immediate suspension of Madagascar from the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (Sadc).

Zambian Foreign Minister Kabinga Pande also told a news conference in Lusaka: "Zambia rejects the unconstitutional change of government in Madagascar."

Meanwhile, France's foreign ministry said the 24-month deadline Mr Rajoelina has pledged for holding fresh elections was "too long".

A Quai d'Orsay spokesman stressed France would continue its aid to the island and "maintain its policy of co-operation".

'Back to normal'

Mr Rajoelina addressed supporters in the capital on Wednesday to promise a return to "normal life, to security and above all national reconciliation", reported Reuters news agency.

Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana on 15 March 2009
President Marc Ravalomanana 's whereabouts are currently unknown

The constitutional court announced its approval of the power transition in a radio address, after being approached by Mr Rajoelina's supporters.

The BBC's Jonah Fisher, in the capital Antananarivo, says the legal decision is part of a process of legitimising Mr Rajoelina as president after he effectively seized power with the backing of his supporters and the military.

Our correspondent says there is relief on the streets that the Indian Ocean island's power struggle, which has left more than 100 people dead since January, has ended without further bloodshed so far.

'No power vacuum'

According to a legal document obtained by AFP news agency, the constitutional court "proclaims that Mr Andry Rajoelina exercises the attributions of the president of the Republic as stated by the provisions of the constitution".

MADAGASCAR KEY FACTS
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

But according to Malagasy law, the head of parliament's upper house should have taken over after the president's resignation and organised an election within two months.

Mr Rajoelina earlier told the BBC's World Today programme: "There must not be a power vacuum."

He promised elections within the next 18 to 24 months and, asked why polls could not be held earlier, said he did not want "history to repeat itself".

"We'll have to change the constitution," he told the BBC. "We'll have to analyse the law on political parties, the electoral code; we need time to do all this."

FROM THE BBC WORLD SERVICE

Asked about the future of Mr Ravalomanana - whose whereabouts a day after his ousting were unclear - Mr Rajoelina said that was up to the judiciary.

Palace looted

Our correspondent says the Iavoloha palace formerly occupied by President Ravalomanana on the outskirts of the capital has been ransacked by looters.

Smashed photos of the former president lie on the floor and electrical equipment has been taken.

The former mayor effectively took charge on Tuesday evening after the army rejected a plan laid out by the departing President Ravalomanana to hand over power to a military directorate.

Mr Rajoelina paraded triumphantly through the streets of the capital, after installing himself at the presidential residence seized by soldiers on Monday night.

He had rejected a proposal at the weekend by Mr Ravalomanana, who was re-elected to a second term in 2006, for a referendum on whether the president should serve the remainder of his mandate.

The week's events have marked a dramatic victory for the young politician, who was sacked as mayor of the capital in February.



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