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Judges endorse new Madagascan president

MADAGASCAR'S highest court yesterday endorsed the army's move to replace the nation's toppled president with his rival, while the African Union was considering whether the action constituted a coup.

Supporters of opposition leader Andry Rajoelina approached the court to affirm the army's action.

In a radio address yesterday, the court declared that Rajoelina "is serving as president of the republic" ?? even though at 34, Rajoelina is six years too young to do so under the country's constitution.

Rajoelina promised to hold elections within two years.

The court gave no reasons, saying only that Marc Ravalomanana had vacated his presidential post and left the military to make the decision on how it would be filled.

For months, Rajoelina has been leading anti-government rallies and pressing Ravalomanana to step down so he could replace him. He accused Ravalomanana of misspending public funds and undermining democracy on the Indian Ocean island off Africa's southeast coast.

Some of Rajoelina's protests led to clashes in which at least 25 civilians died last month.

After weeks of insisting he would never resign, Ravalomanana announced on Tuesday afternoon he was ceding control to the military.

If the African Union decides a coup has taken place, Madagascar would be automatically suspended from the continent-wide body, said Bruno Nongoma Zidouemba, chairman of the AU's Peace and Security Council.

France, Madagascar's former colonial power and current main donor, said on Tuesday that two years was "too long" to wait for elections.

South Africa expressed concern at "unconstitutional attempts undertaken by the opposition that led to the resignation of the democratically elected president."


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