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Madagascar opposition leader declares himself president

But the increasingly isolated President Marc Ravalomanana refuses to resign. Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, untroubled, moves into an empty office in the capital.

March 15, 2009|Associated Press

ANTANANARIVO, MADAGASCAR — Madagascar's opposition chief emerged from two weeks of hiding to declare himself president on Saturday, setting up another showdown with the country's increasingly isolated leader, who defied demands to resign.

Embattled President Marc Ravalomanana prevailed the first time the two men tangled, but now his power base has disappeared against an opposition that is promising elections within two years on this island off Africa's southeast coast.

On Saturday, Ravalomanana -- a master of political infighting -- refused to quit, even though he has lost the support of much of the military.

"I am still president," Ravalomanana, 49, declared outside the presidential palace to a crowd of about 2,000 supporters, many wielding bars and sticks.

But in another part of the capital, opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, 34, set a deadline of just a few hours for Ravalomanana to dissolve the government and give up the leadership of this poor Indian Ocean island of 20 million people. The opposition also moved without resistance into the empty offices of the less powerful prime minister and named someone to replace him.

More than 100 people have been killed since demonstrations erupted in Madagascar in January.

There was a tense calm Saturday, after sporadic looting earlier in the week, and the military did not intervene.

"There is only one solution. The resignation of Marc Ravalomanana," Rajoelina told a crowd of about 10,000 jubilant demonstrators Saturday in his first public appearance since he went into hiding at the French Embassy two weeks ago, fearing arrest.

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