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More Talks Between Government, Rebel Soldiers in Madagascar

Soldiers patrol a street in Madagascar's capital Antananarivo, 18 Nov 2010

Soldiers patrol a street in Madagascar's capital Antananarivo, 18 Nov 2010

Madagascar's army chief has met with rebel soldiers who threatened to topple the government earlier this week.

On Friday Andre Ndriarijoana entered the camp that has been seized by the rebel soldiers but left later without making a public statement. Security forces later fired tear gas to disperse a crowd that had gathered near the site.

Reuters news quotes Defense Minister Lucien Rakotoarimasy as saying talks are continuing, even though the army chief has left.

On Wednesday, a group of about 20 military officers told a news conference the government was dissolved and that a military council would take charge of the country.

But by day's end it was clear the officers did not control any government institutions.

The unrest occurred on the same day Madagascar voted on a new constitution.

If enacted, the new charter would solidify President Andry Rajoelina's hold on power. He seized power in a coup last year.

The Rajoelina government has said the new constitution will help stabilize the country following nearly two years of political turmoil. Critics say the charter will neither resolve the country's political crisis nor win international legitimacy for Mr. Rajoelina.

The new constitution does not set a limit on the duration of Mr. Rajoelina's transitional government. It also would lower the minimum age for a presidential candidate to 35, clearing the way for Mr. Rajoelina, who is 36, to run for office.

Madagascar's three main opposition movements had called for a boycott of Wednesday's referendum.

President Rajoelina and Prime Minister Camille Vital have vowed to take action against the mutineers.

Earlier Friday, authorities ordered the evacuation of civilians living near the rebel soldiers' camp. However, Rakotoarimasy said the order was not issued in preparation of any attack on the rebel officers.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.