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Military Announces Takeover as Madagascar Votes on New Constitution

Madagascans line up to cast their votes in a referendum in Antananarivo, 17 Nov 2010
Madagascans line up to cast their votes in a referendum in Antananarivo, 17 Nov 2010

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A group of military officers in Madagascar say they have taken control of the country and have dissolved all political institutions. Another group of senior officers, however, says it will oppose any mutiny. The dispute erupted as voting concluded on a new constitution.

Despite the conflict within the military ranks, voting on Madagascar's new constitution was calm.

About 18,000 polling booths across Madagascar opened Wednesday at dawn to allow the island nation's 7 million registered voters to vote 'yes' or 'no' on the draft charter.

President Andry Rajoelina cast his vote in Antananarivo and urged his countrymen to do the same.

He said taking responsibility is important when it comes to the fact that citizens can express their opinions through the referendum, because it is really the opinion of the people that is sought, for the future of the country. Rajoelina said it is very important to participate.

Later, he told reporters he would not step down in defiance of military threats.

Supporters hoped the new constitution would bring political stability, and restore donor and investor support, following the military-backed coup nearly two years ago. That brought Mr. Rajoelina to power and ousted then-President Marc Ravalomanana.

Three main opposition parties, led by Mr. Ravalomanana and two other former Malagasy presidents, rejected the referendum and called for a boycott.

A resident of Antananarivo, Aha Randriamahefa, said many people are tired of the crisis and quarreling among politicians. He said he voted because he would like to see changes in governance. If he had not voted there would be no change. There are politicians who are still bickering, but he said voting is not a competition between individuals, rather a way to find a solution.

The draft constitution, if approved, would extend Mr. Rajoelina's transitional government until elections are held next year. It also would lower the minimum age for presidential candidates from 40 to 35 years. Mr. Rajoelina, who is 36, has said he would not be a candidate for president.

The draft charter would require presidential candidates to have resided in the country for at least six months prior to the elections. This would block Mr. Ravalomanana, who has been in exile since the coup.

The African Union and Southern Africa Development Community suspended Madagascar following the coup, and western donors suspended non-humanitarian aid.

International negotiators tried to mediate several power-sharing deals, but these collapsed because of disputes over how to share the top posts. This led Mr. Rajoelina to say he would proceed with the transition without foreign assistance.

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