Madagascar opposition leader says he controls army

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The Independent Online

Madagascar's opposition leader Andry Rajoelina said on today that he had the army's backing and was giving the orders during a standoff with the Indian Ocean island's president.

He is urging President Marc Ravalomanana to step down in a crisis that has killed more than 135 people this year and threatens to derail Madagascar's economy.

"Of course it is me who is giving the army orders. I am in permanent contact with them," Rajoelina told Reuters by phone.

The army appears to be leaning away from Ravalomanana, but there is no independent indication it is fully behind Rajoelina yet. Madagascar's army has remained traditionally neutral and diplomats hope it remains that way.

Ravalomanana defied a four-hour deadline by Rajoelina to step down on Saturday and his supporters guarded the presidential palace throughout the night.

"For now we are waiting for him to resign. If he doesn't then we have other options ... I can't say if that means a military intervention," Rajoelina said.

"We will let him leave quietly. I think the situation will evolve within the next 48 hours," he said.

Rajoelina, 34, a former disc jockey who was sacked as Antananarivo's mayor earlier this year, says Ravalomanana is an autocrat running the island like a private company.

The president says Rajoelina is a maverick and trouble maker.

While Rajoelina has tapped into widespread public discontent, many Malagasy are fed up with the disruption to their lives and the local economy.

The crisis is crippling the tourism sector and spooking foreign investors in the important mining and oil exploration sectors.