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Coup captain takes over in the Comoros

Moroni - A military officer in jail until three days ago announced himself leader of the island territory of the Comoros yesterday.

Captain Combo Ayouba, imprisoned after a failed 1992 coup attempt, said in an interview on the terrace of the presidential palace that he had plotted from jail last Thursday's seizure of power, by a French mercenary, Bob Denard.

Moroni, the capital, was calm yesterday. Children swam in the ocean despite a rainstorm, and a few rebel soldiers guarded key installations, such as the radio station, site of the only serious clash of the coup.

Mr Denard and more than a dozen other foreign mercenaries involved in the coup had finished their job and would play no role in the new government, Captain Ayouba said.

He suggested most of the mercenaries would be asked to leave, but said Mr Denard, 66, was a Comorian citizen entitled to live in the country.

Captain Ayouba is a long-time associate of Mr Denard, who has led previous coups in the Comoros and elsewhere in Africa. The captain heads a "Military Transition Committee" that accuses the ousted president, Said Mohamed Djohar, of corruption and acting against the constitution. He said Mr Djohar was unhurt but in custody, and would probably stand trial.

"We are going to change this country," said Captain Ayouba, 42. "We got support from the army for a quick change."

His ruling committee has promised to consult all political parties in setting up an interim leadership that would hold national elections. No date has been proposed for the talks.

On Saturday the overthrown government and an opposition party pleaded for international help in driving out the mercenaries.

France, the former colonial power, has refused so far to intervene militarily, although it has put its 4,000 troops in the region on full alert, and French navy ships carrying landing craft are on the high seas.

The deposed prime minister, Caambi el Yashourtu, called from his refuge in the French embassy for France to take action. France has cut aid to the Comoros, and has called for a return to constitutional order.