Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Madagascar News Bulletin: Andry Rajoelina Takes Power With Military Backing After Ravalomanana Resigns

Madagascar president quits

ANTANANARIVO (AFP) - - Madagascar's beleaguered President Marc Ravalomanana resigned and transferred power to the military on Tuesday after a months-long political crisis which left around 100 people dead.

Hours after the army had blasted its way into his offices and let his arch rival Andry Rajoelina take control, an isolated Ravalomanana bowed to the inevitable and signed away his power in a presidential decree.

"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, without specifying who that would be.

"The military authority is enabled to take all measures it deems necessary to restore public order and stability, facilitate a genuine national reconciliation geared towards true social and economic development," it added.

The move marked a dramatic victory for Andry Rajoelina, the sacked mayor of Antananarivo who has been leading a months-long push to topple Ravalomanana after seven years as president of the Indian Ocean island.

However, according to an army official, Rajoelina promptly rejected the transfer of power to a military authority.

During a meeting at the episcopate of army generals, religious mediators and diplomats, Rajoelina rejected the transfer of power to the military announced by the president, Colonel Noel Rakotonandrasana told AFP.

"The opposition leader walked out of the meeting" when the order confirming Ravalomanana's resignation and transferring all his powers -- as well as those of the prime minister -- to a military authority was read, said the colonel, who attended the meeting.

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.

The proposed lifespan of military rule on the island and other details of the arrangement were not immediately known.

The 34-year-old Rajoelina was already behaving like the country's new ruler however when he entered the presidential compound in the wake of a spectacular night-time assault by the army backed by tanks.

"I solemnly declare that I will not spare any effort," he said, proclaiming that the transitional authority he set up last month was in charge of the country's affairs.

"We are now free but the road ahead remains rough," he added, as Christian clerics conducted ceremonies in the presidential compound to mark the occasion.

The army's move on the 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.

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 already left when he lost control of the army last week.

The president, in power for the last seven years, had been in a defiant mood until Monday and attempted to dispel intense speculation that he would go into exile, according to presidential spokesman Andry Ralijaona.

"I am staying with you and if I have to die, I will die with you," the spokesman quoted Ravalomanana as telling his remaining guards in the palace.

"The president is still in Iavoloha. He is saddened by what is happening," Ralijaona told AFP.

After the army and part of his own guard turned against him last week, Ravalomanana proposed a referendum to decide his feud with Rajoelina.

Rajoelina rejected the offer Monday and the army made it clear which side it is backing. "We seized the presidency to hasten Ravalomanana's departure," the army chief said Monday.

Rajoelina, a 34-year-old DJ-turned-businessman who has led popular opposition to the government, has urged the country's security forces to arrest the president for "high treason".

Rajoelina, accusing his rival of being a dictator starving his people, has used his charisma and own private television station to mount a brazen challenge for the country's top office.

Ravalomanana said in a statement Monday that Rajoelina's claim to power was illegitimate and argued that his rejection of a last-ditch offer for a referendum to decide the outcome was tantamount to "supporting anarchy".

Ahead of a second African Union meeting on the issue in two days, the continental body's top executive Jean Ping said he was monitoring the situation.

"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.

Madagascar president forced out

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.

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.
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.


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.

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.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/03/17 19:47:12 GMT

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