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

Madagascar opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana has proclaimed himself president without waiting for next month's election run-off and in spite of international condemnation.

He declared himself head of state (Friday) before at least 75-thousand supporters at a sports stadium in Antananarivo, the capital.

Madagascar President Didier Ratsiraka has not yet commented on the development. The president ran second to Mr. Ravalomanana in first round voting, last December.

However, France has condemned the attempted takeover of its former colonial state, calling for a return to political dialogue. Meanwhile, the French Press Agency quotes the head of the Organization of African Unity, Amara Essy, as saying he also "strongly condemns" the move.

On Thursday, Mr. Essy expressed reservations about Mr. Ravalomanana's plan, calling for restraint on all sides.

The opposition leader says he won an absolute majority in the first vote. He insists that President Ratsiraka rigged the polls to force a runoff, now scheduled for March 24th.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.