- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

ANTANANARIVO, MADAGASCAR (AP) - Madagascar’s highest court on Wednesday said the army’s move to replace the toppled president with his rival was legal, but the African Union was considering whether it constituted a coup.

Supporters of opposition leader Andry Rajoelina had approached the constitutional court to affirm the army’s action. In a radio address Wednesday, the court announced its approval _ even though at 34, Rajoelina is six years too young to be president under the country’s constitution.

For months, Rajoelina has been leading anti-government rallies and pressing Marc Ravalomanana to step down from the presidency. He accused Ravalomanana of misspending public funds and undermining democracy on this Indian Ocean island off Africa’s southeast coast.

Some of Rajoelina’s protests led to deadly clashes. The deaths of at least 25 civilians last month cost Ravalomanana the support of a faction of the military, and a mutiny spread and gained popular support.

After weeks of insisting he would never resign, Ravalomanana announced Tuesday afternoon he was ceding control to the military. Almost as he spoke, Rajoelina was parading triumphantly through the capital surrounded by armed soldiers and an adoring crowd after seizing control of one of the city’s presidential palaces.

In a ceremony broadcast from a military camp in the capital late Tuesday, Vice-Admiral Hyppolite Rarison Ramaroson said he and two other generals rejected Ravalomanana’s attempt earlier that day to transfer power to the military.

Ramaroson said the military instead was installing the president’s bitter rival Rajoelina as the country’s leader.

The African Union was examining whether what had taken place was a coup, which would lead to Madagascar’s automatic suspension from the continent-wide body, said Bruno Nongoma Zidouemba, the temporary chairman of the AU’s Peace and Security Council. He said a meeting on the issue was set for Thursday.

___

Associated Press Writer Anita Powell in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia contributed to this report.

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