- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

ANTANANARIVO, MADAGASCAR (AP) - Madagascar’s opposition leader declared himself president and appointed a prime minister as head of a transition government Saturday, as the authority of embattled leader Marc Ravalamona crumbled.

An opposition statement said new presidential and parliamentary elections would be held within two years.

There was no immediate reaction from Ravalamona. But he is now isolated and powerless and president only in name. The opposition has seized upon the opportunity created by the military, which in recent days has withdrawn its support from the president.

The military has not specifically supported opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, and the international community continues to call for a negotiated resolution.

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.”

Rajoelina’s supporters on Thursday appointed their own armed forces chief without any resistance from Ravalamona loyalists, and on Friday said they now controlled army tanks, prompting the president to go on national radio to warn against any assassination attempts.

Rajoelina, who has been in hiding for two weeks for fear of arrest, appeared before 10,000 supporters in a demonstration at a downtown square. Significantly _ and in a further possible indication of Ravalamona weakness _ the president of the national assembly was also present in the square.

Rajoelina is the charismatic former mayor of the capital, who was dismissed earlier this year in a power struggle with Ravalamona. 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, his movement said that the transitional government would “immediately start executing its functions.”

It said it would organize preparatory consultations to draw up a new constitution and new electoral code and organize new presidential and parliamentary elections within two years.

It said 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,” said the resolution.

“The public authority is incapable of protecting the population and its property. National sovereignty is menaced.”

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