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President remains defiant as opposition deadline expires

Video by Cyril VANIER , Virginie HERZ

Latest update : 2009-03-15

Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana (photo) has refused to step down after the expiry of a four-hour deadline proclaimed by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, who appeared earlier today before a crowd of supporters in the island's capital.

Reuters - Madagascar's opposition claimed to have toppled the government on Saturday but President Marc Ravalomanana insisted he was in charge despite months of unrest that have left more than 100 dead.
The army said it would not intervene in the tussle but chief of staff Colonel Andre Andriarijaona said his forces could end up supporting the opposition "if it would restore calm" to the Indian Ocean island.
The opposition's leader Andry Rajoelina, addressing thousands of supporters in his first public appearance since March 3, called on Ravalomanana to "humbly leave power in the next four hours" as his side promised fresh elections.
"The president of the republic, the National Assembly and the Senate, and the government are removed from their duties," said Roindefo Zafitsimivalo Monja, another of the opposition's leaders.
"We commit to organising presidential, parliamentary and district elections, in not more than 24 months," said Monja, the opposition's nominee for the post of prime minister.
As the deadline expired, the embattled president remained rooted in his official residence and defied calls to quit.
Ravalomanana said he was still in power, stressing that the opposition "lacks the power given by the people in democratic elections.
"This movement is ... a manifestation from the street which uses terror and repression to survive," he said. "Self-proclamation gives no legal power."
About 1,000 supporters of the embattled president set up barricades around a park surrounding the presidential palace, some 12 kilometres (eight miles) from the capital Antananarivo, armed with batons but clearly nervous.
"We are here to protect the president. Nobody makes concessions to mercenaries anywhere in the world. Why are we negotiating with Rajoelina, who is a mercenary?" a supporter told AFP.
The power grab by the opposition, which has accused Ravalomanana of running a dictatorship, came after the president acknowledged making mistakes during the crisis.
Monja, who spoke to reporters from the prime minister's office after the opposition took control of the building, was accompanied by other opposition ministerial nominees and around 30 soldiers.
"The president of the republic is no longer in a position to exercise the role allocated to him by the constitution," he said. "It is clear the armed forces refuse to obey the president."
The president of the assembly Jacques Sylla told the crowd: "There is only one solution: the resignation of President Ravalomanana."
In Brussels the European Commission said it was seriously concerned by the developments, while the UN envoy to Madagascar, Tiebile Drame, urged the two sides "to find a compromise," to "preserve peace and stability."
Rajoelina, an ex-DJ and former mayor of the capital who set up a parallel administration last month as part of his strategy to destabilise the government, had been under UN protection since evading arrest last week.
On Thursday followers of both Ravalomanana and Rajoelina took to the streets to press their campaigns following weeks of mounting tension which began in January after Rajoelina called anti-government protests.
Last month, the presidential guard opened fire on opposition protesters marching on one of Ravalomanana's offices, killing 28 and wounding some 200.       The carnage drew international condemnation and caused deep dismay among the security establishment on the vast Indian Ocean island.
Rajoelina had demanded Ravalomanana's resignation and the formation of a full transitional government but the president vowed to continue in power until the end of his term in 2011.

Date created : 2009-03-14