Antananarivo (AFP) Nov 18, 2010
A Madagascar army general who declared a coup in the troubled Indian Ocean island said Thursday he would persist with his power grab despite failing to win the support of the army.
Authorities went into talks with General Noel Rakotonandrasana to try and resolve the fresh crisis on the Indian Ocean island, which has been in a political limbo since Andry Rajoelina toppled president Marc Ravalomanana last year.
Rakotonandrasana led about 20 army officers Wednesday in declaring that government institutions were suspended and a military council was in control.
The declaration appeared to have little effect Thursday, as offices and businesses operated as normal in the capital Antananarivo. There was no special security deployment in the city.
Shops were open and traffic flowed normally, an AFP correspondent said.
The mutineers were meanwhile holed up at an army base outside the capital and only one soldier was standing guard at the entrance.
Asked whether he will press on with the bid, the general said "Of course. Nothing is going well in Madagascar. This cannot continue any more."
"We have to discuss with our men who stopped our action," he told AFP, acknowledging that negotiations with other army units were under way.
"At the moment, we have no intention of fighting among ourselves. This will be handled through negotiations."
Rakotonandrasana was appointed armed forces minister after Rajoelina's March 2009 takeover, but he was sacked in April on suspicion of plotting against Rajoelina's regime.
Earlier, a military source warned that the regime would take a firm stand if the negotiations collapse.
"If the negotiations fail, the regime is going to take a much tougher stance. There won't be any en masse pardon. Orders have been given," said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Ravalomanana's opposition group hailed the mutineers.
"The soldiers' reasoning is simple: there is no longer a government, no authority in Madagascar because even the international community does not recognise the regime," said Roland Ravatomanga, an ally of Ravalomanana.
"If it is about taking responsibility for this situation, every concerned citizen can only approve of such courage" by the dissident soldiers.
"If it is meant to restore order and revert power to civilians, I say 'hats off'," Ravatomanga said.
"I cannot say that I support it or not. We are the first to be against coups d'etat, but almost all soldiers have had enough," he added.
The 36-year-old Rajoelina said late Wednesday the government will take action against the rebel officers, but he added that it was up to the military to come up with an appropriate decision.
Wednesday's declaration came as Madagascans were voting on a new constitution designed to give the country a fresh political start after more than 18 months of political turmoil.
The initial outcome of the referendum in the capital showed an overwhelming endorsement of the proposed new constitution despite a turnout of just 40 percent, the electoral commission announced Thursday.
Ravalomanana and two other former presidents, each of whom heads an opposition movement, had called for a boycott of the vote, arguing that Rajoelina had reneged on previous agreements under international mediation.
"Overall, everything went off normally," during polling, said Gisele Dama Ranampy, a member of the electoral body.
Ranampy said the first result trends on a national level will only be available in two or three days' time because some upcountry regions are very remote. Official results will take even longer, she said.
The referendum was the first step in a process agreed upon by Rajoelina and some 100 smaller parties in August to lift the country from its political limbo.
Rajoelina's power grab and subsequent refusal to honour power-sharing accords reached with rivals prompted the African Union to suspend Madagascar and imposed sanctions on him and scores of his backers.
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