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Madagascar President Rejects Court Decision on Disputed Vote - 2002-04-29

The High Constitutional Court in Madagascar has declared opposition candidate Marc Ravalomanana the winner of last December's disputed presidential election. But the incumbent president has said he will not accept the decision. And there are fears of violence on the Indian Ocean sland-nation.

Madagascar's High Constitutional Court recounted ballots from the disputed election. The court said Mr. Ravalomanana won 51 percent of the vote, and incumbent President Didier Ratsiraka received 36 percent. That result is enough to give Mr. Ravalomanana an outright victory in the election. But before the court ruled, Mr. Ratsiraka had already said he does not recognize the High Constitutional Court as a legal body, and will not respect its decision. He is demanding a referendum to decide who is Madagascar's legitimate leader.

The recount was part of a peace plan both men agreed to in Senegal earlier this month. The deal aimed to end months of turmoil in the island nation. Political analysts fear the court decision could lead to violence and even civil war in Madagascar.

Before the recount, several provincial governors loyal to Mr. Ratsiraka said they might secede from the nation if Mr. Ravalomanana was declared the winner.

The French news agency AFP says one governor, Jean-Robert Gara, is planning to follow through on that threat and declare independence for his province, Antsiranana, on the northernmost tip of the island.

Clashes between supporters of the two sides have rocked the nation in recent months. Local civil rights groups say more than 30 people since the election.

The original results of December's poll said neither man won an outright majority. Mr. Ratsiraka wanted a second round of voting, but Mr. Ravalomanana claimed the vote was rigged. He ordered his supporters to take to the streets for massive protests, and called a widely observed general strike that crippled the country's economy. When that failed, he declared himself president. Mr. Ratsiraka fled to the coastal city of Toamasina, also known as Tamatave, and ordered his supporters to blockade the capital, cutting off supplies of fuel and other essential goods. He has refused to lift the blockade, even after signing the peace deal in Senegal.

The two presidential contenders established rival governments as the political standoff deepened. The military's loyalties are divided, like the rest of the island.