- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

ANTANANARIVO, MADAGASCAR (AP) - Madagascar’s isolated president resisted demands to quit Saturday and denied opposition claims that it was in control of the government.

Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina had given President Marc Ravalomanana four hours to dissolve the government and give up the leadership of this poor Indian Ocean island of 20 million people. The opposition moved without resistance into the offices of the prime minister and proclaimed its own premier on Saturday.

“There is only one solution. The resignation of Marc Ravalomanana,” Rajoelina told a crowd of about 10,000 jubilant demonstrators.

But Ravalomanana, who has repeatedly waged and won power struggles with opponents, remained defiant even though he no longer has much evident support from the military.

“I am still president,” Ravalomanana declared to a crowd of some 2,000 supporters outside the presidential palace in another part of the capital.

He also issued a statement saying that the opposition did not have “the power bestowed by democratic elections.”

“This movement is and remains a street protest which uses terror and repression to survive. A self-proclamation does not equate to legitimate power.” He said he continued to recognize his own prime minister and not the opposition’s choice.

More than 100 people have been killed since demonstrations first erupted in January. There was a tense calm Saturday after sporadic looting earlier in the week.

Rajoelina said earlier he hoped the handover would be peaceful, seeking to ease the president’s fears that he would be assassinated.

“I have clean hands. I have no intention of killing him (Ravalomanana). I have no intention of sending in tanks and soldiers,” said Rajoelina who appeared for the first time since going into hiding two weeks ago to evade arrest.

Opposition supporters with a military escort entered the existing prime minister’s office Saturday without meeting any resistance and proclaimed Monja Roindefo Zafitsimivalo as the new premier.

They proclaimed that the “high authority of transition” presided over by Rajoelina would “assume the functions of the president of the republic.” They said they would hold new elections within two years.

It is the second time Rajoelina, a former disc jockey who became mayor of the capital, has declared himself president. The first time Ravalomanana prevailed, but now his power base has completely disappeared.

The opposition on Thursday proclaimed its own commander in chief of the armed forces without any resistance, and Friday said it gained control of tanks, prompting the president to go on national radio to warn against any assassination attempts. At Saturday’s rally, the head of the national assembly who was formerly a close ally of Ravalomanana also called on the president to quit.

“There is only one solution, the resignation of the head of state,” said Jacques Sylla. “As president of the national assembly, I have to recognize reality.”

Rajoelina was dismissed as mayor earlier this year in a power struggle with Ravalomanana. He accuses the president of misuse of funds and worsening the poverty on the Indian Ocean island nation.

In a resolution read out in the prime minister’s office on Saturday, his movement said that the transitional government would “immediately start executing its functions.”

It said it would organize consultations for a new constitution and new electoral code and organize new presidential and parliamentary elections within two years. It would petition the constitutional court to announce the dismissal of the president and parliament and to declare that the responsibilities of the president would be assumed by the high transitional authority.

“The president of the republic can no longer exercise the functions given to him by the constitution. The president can no longer assure the unity of the armed forces and can no longer be considered as commander in chief of the armed forces,” it said. “The public authority is incapable of protecting the population and its property. National sovereignty is menaced.”

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