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Madagascar President Says Still in Charge After Soldiers' Mutiny

Madagascar's leader Andry Rajoelina speaks to the press after casting his vote at a local polling station in Antananarivo, 17 Nov. 2010. He vowed not to resign after a group of military officers said they had taken over the island nation.

Madagascar's president says he is still in charge of the country after a group of dissident soldiers said they had seized power on the island nation.

Andry Rajoelina spoke to reporters in the capital Wednesday after voting in a constitutional referendum his government sponsored.

He said a group of about 20 officers had threatened him with death if he does not resign, but added, "I'm not afraid of threats."

His government's prime minster, Camille Vital, appeared on television Wednesday with several high level military officials to denounce the officers as mutineers.

The group of about 20 officers told reporters Wednesday they were dissolving all government institutions and setting up a committee to run the country.

However, witnesses say the Rajoelina government appeared to remain in control of government institutions following the officers' declaration.

The capital, Antananarivo, was calm for most of the day and voting on the new constitution proceeded normally. Late in the day, however, security forces clashed with protesters who backed the dissident soldiers.

Reports from the scene say several hundred protesters tried to erect barricades to prevent soldiers from entering a military barracks housing the dissident officers. Security forces used tear gas to disperse the protesters.

The spokesman for the rebel officers, Colonel Charles Andrianasoavina, was one of Mr. Rajoelina's main supporters when Mr. Rajoelina seized power in a military-backed coup last year.

The Rajoelina government has said the new constitution will help stabilize the country following last year's ouster of President Marc Ravalomanana.

Madagascar's three main opposition movements had called for a boycott of Wednesday's referendum.
Critics say the charter will not 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.

His government has slated a presidential election for next May.

Madagascar has been in turmoil since the March 2009 coup that put Mr. Rajoelina in power. The African Union has refused to recognize Mr. Rajoelina as president, and foreign donors have suspended most non-essential aid. International efforts to broker a power-sharing deal have failed.

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