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Army arrests chiefs after Ravalomanana hands power to them

Article published on the 2009-03-17 Latest update 2009-03-17 16:15 TU

Andry Rajoelina (L) and Marc Ravalomanana (R).(Photo: Reuters)

Andry Rajoelina (L) and Marc Ravalomanana (R).
(Photo: Reuters)

Lower ranking soldiers in Madagascar's army have arrested four chiefs, to whom President Marc Ravalomanana had handed power, forcing them to sign statements recognising his rival Andry Rajoelina as the country's leader.

After months of crisis, Ravolamanana agreed to go, on condition that top officers took over the running of the country.

But soldiers who had mutinied earlier would accept no compromise and forced their chiefs to sign statements giving Rajoelina power, according to Cyril Vanier of France24 TV.

Q+A: Cyril Vanier of France24 at the military camp

17/03/2009 by Alexandra Brangeon

That voided a statement by the presidential office which declared, "Full powers are given to a military authority headed by eldest in the highest rank of all forces," and called on the military "to take all measures it deems necessary to restore public order and stability".

On Monday the Malagasy army stormed a presidential palace in downtown Antananarivo, extinguishing any hopes Ravalomanana had of clinging to power.

The French consulate sent a text message Tuesday to the expatriate community that read: "President resigns, risk of demonstrations. Remain cautious and avoid driving after dark."

Earlier, Rajoelina, who has been fighting for power for more than two months, was cheered by thousands as he entered the military-occupied palace.

"I solemnly declare that I will not spare any effort," Rajoelina said. "We are now free but the road ahead remains rough," he added, as Christian clerics conducted ceremonies in the presidential compound
to mark the occasion.

Meanwhile, Ravalomanana was said to be holed up with a handful of loyalists in a presidential palace on the outskirts of the capital.

The 34 year-old Rajoelina was criticised by the African Union Monday as seeking to take power unconstitutionally.

But Rajoelina, who called Ravalomanana a dictator, rejected a referndum offer Monday from Ravalomanana and called for his arrest.

The role of President is a new title for Rajoelina, whose background includes stints as a DJ and multimedia mogul.