March 14, 2009 / 8:27 AM / 10 years ago

Madagascar opposition claims presidential authority

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Madagascar’s opposition said on Saturday it had assumed the powers conferred on the Indian Ocean island’s president and would hold elections within two years.

Andry Rajoelina, opposition leader and Antananarivo's 34-year-old mayor, addresses a rally in the capital Antananarivo, January 31, 2009. Troops have broken away from the traditionally neutral security forces, saying they wanted to bring order to a country torn by a stand-off between President Marc Ravalomanana and Rajoelina.

Monja Roindefo, the man named prime minister by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina in a parallel administration, made the remarks ahead of an anti-government rally in the central square of the capital Antananarivo.

“We declare that the transition authority assumes henceforth the powers conferred on the president of the republic,” Roindefo told reporters, pledging to hold presidential, parliamentary and local elections within 24 months.

There was no immediate government reaction.

Rajoelina attended the rally in his first public appearance since going into hiding more than a week ago. Flanked by tight security, he made a ‘V’ for victory sign from the stage.

The president of parliament, Jacques Sylla, told thousands of opposition supporters in the square he was defecting from the government and demanded President Marc Ravalomanana resign.

The political crisis has been running since the beginning of 2009, killing more than 135 people and damaging Madagascar’s image as a sound destination for foreign investment.

Ravalomanana is under growing pressure to quit as he loses control of the army and military police.

CRACKDOWN

The opposition supporters, many wearing orange, thronged the central square that has been the epicentre of previous popular uprisings, dancing and singing as they waited for Rajoelina to appear. There was a heavy military presence on the streets.

Rajoelina, who was sacked as the capital’s mayor, was placed under U.N. protection after apparent attempts to arrest him during a crackdown on his opposition movement.

His aides say there will be no talks to resolve the crisis, which has crippled the bio-diverse rich island’s $390 million tourism sector, as long as Ravalomanana remains in power.

“There is no question of a resumption of talks for the moment,” a source close to Rajoelina told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The calls for the president to resign now come from all quarters, not just the opposition.”

Pro-government supporters were also expected to hold a demonstration at the city’s stadium a short distance away.

The army has become divided since dissident troops ousted the former chief of staff a day after he issued the island’s feuding leaders a three-day ultimatum to end the impasse or face a military intervention.

Some among the mutineers have reiterated calls for the president’s resignation.

The American envoy to Madagascar, Niels Marquardt, told Reuters on Friday he had been reassured by colonels behind the mutiny that they had no intention of launching a coup d’etat.

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