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Military to rule in Madagascar

MADAGASCAR'S president handed over power yesterday - but not to the rival who plunged the Indian Ocean island nation into weeks of turmoil with his bid for power.

In a radio address, President Marc Ravalomanana said he was ceding power to the military.

"After deep reflection, I have decided to dissolve the government and give up power so that a military directorate can be established," he said. "This decision was very difficult and very hard, but it had to be made. We need calm and peace to develop our country."

An aide to Ravalomanana said the military directorate would be made up of veteran, high-ranking military leaders who would organize a national conference that would be responsible for holding elections within two years. Ravalomanana's term would have ended in 2011.

There was no immediate reaction from opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, who has led weeks of anti-government protests.

He had accused Ravalomanana of misspending public funds and undermining democracy in Madagascar? an Indian Ocean island of the coast of Africa known both for its natural beauty and its history of political infighting and instability.

Over the weekend, Rajoelina declared himself president of a transitional government and promised new presidential elections within two years. On Monday, he called on the army to arrest the president, but the army refused.

Earlier yesterday, Rajoelina had entered one of the capital's presidential palaces, welcomed by mutinous soldiers who support him. They had seized the palace, usually used for ceremonial purposes, on Monday night.

Tensions have been rising since late January, when the government blocked an opposition radio station's signal. Rajoelina supporters set fire to a building in the government broadcasting complex as well as an oil depot, a shopping mall and a TV station linked to Ravalomanana. Scores of people were killed. Days later, soldiers opened fire on anti-government protesters, killing at least 25.


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