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OAU Mediates Madagascar Election Controversy - 2002-05-03

In Madagascar, aides to opposition presidential contender Marc Ravolomanana say he will be sworn in as the country's president Monday.

Five of Marc Ravalomanana's top aides issued a statement saying he will form a government aimed at reconciling the Malagasy people. The aides say this government will work to ensure what they call "the best democratic outcome" to the island's political crisis.

Earlier this week, the High Constitutional Court declared Mr. Ravalomanana the winner of December's disputed presidential election, after the court recounted the ballots. The recount was part of a deal signed in Senegal last month by both Mr. Ravalomanana and his rival for the presidency, incumbent President Didier Ratsiraka.

Mr. Ratsiraka, however, says he does not recognize the current composition of the court as legitimate, and will not accept the recount result. He is demanding a referendum to decide who is the country's rightful leader.

But Mr. Ravolomanana's aides say he will take the oath of office Monday. He had originally scheduled his inauguration for Friday, but delayed it apparently at the request of the Organization for African Unity, or OAU. An OAU delegation is in Madagascar for talks with both sides, trying to broker a solution to the standoff.

Meanwhile, the provincial governor of Mahjanga announced he was declaring his province to be independent from the capital. Four provinces, all led by supporters of Mr. Ratsiraka, have essentially seceded from the nation since the court declared Mr. Ravalomanana the winner. The governors say they are forming a confederation, although they cannot legally withdraw from the nation of Madagascar.

The dispute has been simmering since the original election results were announced in January, giving neither man an absolute majority and sending the election into a second round.

Mr. Ravalomanana claims the first round of voting was rigged, and says he actually won more than half the votes. After massive street protests and a general strike failed to force Mr. Ratsiraka to step down, Mr. Ravalomanana unilaterally declared himself president last month.

The two men have run rival governments since then, with Mr. Ravalomanana based in the capital city of Antananarivo, and Mr. Ratsiraka in the port city of Toamasina, also known as Tamatave.

Mr. Ratsiraka's supporters have blockaded the capital, keeping fuel and other vital supplies from reaching the opposition stronghold. The incumbent president has refused to lift the blockades, despite agreeing to do so in Senegal.

Early Friday, saboteurs believed to be supporters of Mr. Ratsiraka blew up another bridge leading to the capital. It is the fifth bridge destroyed since the blockade began.