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Plea to arrest the president

MADAGASCAR'S opposition leader Andry Rajoelina has called on the security forces to arrest President Marc Ravalomanana, saying yesterday that he was impatient to take power in the Indian Ocean island.

Despite growing pressure to resign over the crisis that has killed at least 135 people and crippled the economy, the elected president says he will only step down democratically and has offered a referendum on whether he should stay.

The army, which has leaned away from the president but not definitively allied with Rajoelina, said a referendum would take too long and risked chaos in the meantime.

"I ask the army and police and all those who can to carry out the minister of justice's demand, because Andry Rajoelina is impatient to get into office," he told a rally in the capital.

Christine Razanamahasoa, appointed minister of justice in Rajoelina's parallel administration, earlier told the rally she was ordering prosecutors to arrest the president.

Both the army and military police were surprised by the call. The new army chief of staff said arrests were a matter for the police. The head of the military police said it could not act as there was no arrest warrant.

The African Union condemned what it called an attempted coup by the opposition and urged the people of Madagascar to respect the country's constitution.

Raising tensions in the crisis, explosions were heard before dawn near the presidential palace.

Dozens of soldiers took over another presidential palace in Madagascar's capital later in the day.


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