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Ravalomanana Declares Himself Madagascar's President - 2002-02-22

In Madagascar, opposition leader and presidential candidate Marc Ravalomanana has declared himself president at a rally attended by about 100,000 supporters in the capital Antananarivo. But, it is unclear how the self-declared leader plans to assume the reins of government.

A judge administered a so-called oath of office to opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana in the presence of religious and other community leaders. He then declared himself president of Madagascar.

Mr. Ravalomanana says he is the outright winner of last December's presidential election. However, the constitutional court says while he did beat incumbent President Didier Ratsiraka - with 46 percent of the vote to 40 percent for the incumbent - he did not win a majority. The court has ordered a second round of voting on March 24. Mr. Ravalomanana says a second round is not necessary and in protest has led his supporters in public demonstrations for the past three weeks. He has also called a national strike that has had a crippling effect on the economy.

Mr. Ravalomanana, a businessman and current mayor of Antananarivo, says he will immediately begin appointing members to his cabinet, but has not said how he and these officials will take office and carry out the duties of government. The self-styled president also says he hopes his government will soon be recognized by the international community.

But international recognition may be slow in coming. The Organization of African Unity, which had attempted to broker a settlement between Mr. Ravalomanana and President Ratsiraka, condemned the move. And United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan earlier warned that he rejects any unconstitutional attempt to take power. Mr. Annan had said he was deeply concerned about Mr. Ravalomanana's plans to proclaim himself president of Madagascar.

There has been a muted response from the government of Madagascar to Mr. Ravalamanana's declaration. The senate said that power cannot be taken from the streets and declared his action illegal. Security forces are reportedly guarding government buildings and installations. Military leaders previously said the army would uphold the legal institutions of Madgascar.