Army-backed leader cements grip in Madagascar

ANTANANARIVO, (Reuters) – Madagascar’s new  president, Andry Rajoelina, celebrated and consolidated power yesterday after being appointed by the Indian Ocean island’s  military in a move which drew international disapproval.

Rajoelina, a 34-year-old former disc jockey who is now the  youngest and newest president in Africa, partied with supporters  in the street after meeting his ministers to plan strategy.

His priorities are anti-poverty programmes expected by  locals, handling international concern at his ascent to power  and controlling some dissent in the armed forces.

“We will bring about the return to a normal life, to  security and above all national reconciliation, which is at the  heart of democracy,” he told several thousand supporters  celebrating in the capital Antananarivo’s May 13 square.

In a boost to Rajoelina’s legitimacy, Madagascar’s  Constitutional Court issued a statement endorsing the takeover.

He is to be formally sworn in on Saturday.     President Marc Ravalomanana, 59, resigned on Tuesday after  most of the military backed his rival, who had led weeks of  anti-government strikes and protests.

The unrest killed at least 135 people, devastated the $390  million-a-year tourism sector and worried multinationals with  investments in the mining and oil industries.

The outcome was also a slap in the face for the African  Union (AU), which has censured recent violent transfers of power  that have damaged the continent’s reputation with investors.

Nervous of more turmoil, the U.S. embassy ordered  non-essential staff and their families to leave Madagascar.

Experts said Western donors’ disquiet at the manner of  Rajoelina’s rise would probably be short-term.

“With so many people below the poverty line I can’t see the  international community abandoning Madagascar in the long run,  and (Rajoelina) knows this,” Lydie Boka, of Paris-based risk  group StrategiCo, told Reuters.

While the military was crucial in installing the opposition  leader, analysts say he also has the backing of exiled former  president Didier Ratsiraka and his allies. Some analysts said  former colonial ruler France gave him tacit support too. Ravalomanana’s whereabouts were unclear. The opposition had  accused him of corruption and of losing touch with the majority  of the population who live on less than $2 a day.

Some of his ministers were prevented from leaving the  country until the matter of money missing from central bank was  settled, Rajoelina told reporters.

There was a heavy military presence at the palace where  Ravalomanana capitulated. A Reuters TV witness saw broken  windows and furniture, as well as a crowbar lodged in the door  of a safe. It was not clear whether departing presidential  guards, the army or the public had ransacked the building.

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