Madagascar president surrenders powers to military (Lead)

March 17th, 2009 - 9:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Antananarivo, March 17 (DPA) Madagascar’s embattled President Marc Ravalomanana Tuesday transferred his powers to a senior military officer after losing control of the presidency and the army to the opposition, diplomatic sources said.
Western diplomats in Antananarivo told DPA that Ravalomanana, the democratically-elected president of seven years who has been holed up in his residential palace for days, had transferred power to Navy vice-admiral Hippolyte Rarison Ramaroson.

The sources said Ravalomanana had not resigned his presidency as he can later reassume the powers he invested in the officer.

The 59-year-old leader has been under immense pressure to resign after losing control of the army to a group of mutinous troops, who stormed his administrative palace Monday evening in support of opposition leader Andry Rajoelina.

Rajoelina, the 34-year-old ex-mayor of the capital, took control of government buildings at the weekend after seven weeks of street protests.

He has proposed to form an interim government, the members of which he has already named, and hold fresh elections within two years.

Over 100 people have been killed since the protests began in late January. The killing by presidential guards of 28 unarmed demonstrators on Feb 7 led to a steep erosion of support for the leader, who came to power in 2002 through a similar campaign of street protests. His opponent was exiled dictator Didier Ratsiraka.

The opposition accuses Ravalomanana, a self-made millionaire, of trampling basic rights and misusing public funds.

The president, who was re-elected to a second five-year term in 2006, had admitted making mistakes and suggested putting his continued leadership to a vote but Rajoelina had rejected his proposal for a referendum as “too late”.

The African Union has condemned what it calls Rajoelina’s attempted coup d’etat, while the European Union has said it will not recognize a government that comes to power through force.

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