Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina appointed himself head of the transitional government of Madagascar after the army handed over power to him, following President Marc Ravalomanana's decision to step down.
AFP - Madagascar's Andry Rajoelina declared Tuesday "call me president" after he was handed power by the army, completing the fiery 34-year-old's ouster of Marc Ravalomanana after a deadly months-long crisis.
"Ravalomanana has already resigned, the prime minister and his government have also resigned, I am at the head of the transitional government... So you can call me president," he told French television channel LCI in a telephone interview.
His government would organise a fresh presidential election within two years, he said, adding that he believed he had the backing of the people.
"It is the people who are giving power, it's the people who are retaking power. We are responding to this demand to put myself at the head of the transitional (government)," he said.
The baby-faced former disc jockey said he did not know of Ravalomanana's whereabouts and denied he had instigated calls for him to be arrested.
"It is not me who is demanding his arrest, it is Madagascan law. It is the law which must settle the fate of Marc Ravalomana," he added.
One of his first tasks at the helm of the transitional authority he set up last month will be to fill the constitutional gap of his take-over, not least of which the article which makes him six years too young to run for president.
Rajoelina was put in charge of the impoverished Indian Ocean island after the military refused a plan laid out by outgoing president Ravalomanana when he resigned hours earlier.
"We have categorically rejected the (military) authority that (president Marc) Ravalomanana asked us to set up after his resignation," Vice Admiral Hippolyte Rarison Ramaroson said.
"We transfer full powers to Andry Rajoelina, who will oversee the transition," he said during a ceremony at a military camp.
Hours after the army had blasted its way into his offices and let his arch rival Rajoelina take control, the 59-year-old Ravalomanana bowed to the inevitable and stepped down.
"Full powers are given to a military authority headed by eldest in the highest rank of all forces," said a statement issued by his office.
But the army rejected the move as an 11th-hour "ploy" by the outgoing president to leave power in the hands of some of his military allies and Rajoelina walked out of the meeting where he was presented with the plan.
The move marked a dramatic victory for Rajoelina, the sacked mayor of Antananarivo who has been leading a months-long push to topple Ravalomanana after seven years as president of the vast island nation.
Rajoelina had earlier been cheered by thousands of supporters and saluted by the army as he took over a deserted presidency in the city centre.
The embattled president received support from his African peers but remained holed up in the presidential palace on the outskirts of the capital with a handful of diehard loyalists before the resignation announcement.
Ravalomanana's whereabouts following his resignation were not immediately clear but speculation has abounded for days that he might flee into exile.
Most of his family left when he lost control of the army last week.
The US State Department denied rumours he had sought refuge at the American embassy in Antananarivo.
Foreign nations were quick to call for restraint but took note of Ravalomanana's resignation and stopped short of describing Rajoelina's army-backed rise to power as a coup.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed "grave concern" as he urged all sides "to act responsibly to ensure stability and a smooth transition through democratic means."
"This peaceful path can only be the result of transitional arrangements arrived at by consensus and enjoying wide support," he added in a statement.
A special meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa called for the security of the outgoing president and his entourage to be guaranteed.
The AU's top executive Jean Ping -- who has repeatedly warned that his organisation would condemn any unconstitutional power change -- also struck a cautious note.
"We'll be checking out who is taking power. We would want constitutional order to continue... If the military do not follow this, this will be a coup. But then again we are still following the situation," he told reporters.
South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said both his country and the South African Development Community would "never countenance the unconstitutional transfer of power from a democratically elected government".
The army's move on the presidential compound on Monday night effectively sealed the president's fate, after a protracted political feud with Rajoelina that flared up late last year and left at least 97 people dead.
The president had been in a defiant mood until Monday, a spokesman quoting him as telling his personal guard: "I am staying with you and if I have to die, I will die with you."
Rajoelina, accusing his rival of being a dictator starving his people, had used his charisma and own private television station to mount a brazen challenge for the country's top office.
Date created : 2009-03-18