Saturday, April 4, 2009

Ravalomanana says he resigned at gunpoint

April 01 2009 - Sapa/AFP

Madagascar's ousted president Marc Ravalomanana said he signed his resignation last month at gunpoint, during a speech to regional leaders, a copy of which was obtained by AFP on Wednesday.

"I never resigned. I was forced to hand power over, at gunpoint," he said, describing the events of March 17, when he relinquished power under pressure from the army and cleared the way for Andry Rajoelina's takeover.

Ravalomanana was speaking to leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) at an extraordinary summit in Swaziland on Monday.

"My family and I were surrounded by soldiers threatening our lives. My son and his wife were forced to hide in the forest. The only escape for us was out of the country," he said.

Ravalomanana said Rajoelina had dispatched troops to the presidential palace where he was holed up, dispersing loyalist supporters and taking over the building.

When Ravalomanana resigned, he transferred power to a military board which subsequently refused to take charge and placed the 34-year-old opposition leader Rajoelina at the helm of the Indian Ocean nation.

SADC made an unprecedented decision at its special meeting to suspend Madagascar from the grouping, describing Rajoelina's accession to power as a coup and calling for constitutional order.

Madagascan army chief of staff Andre Andriarijaona denied the military had marched on the president's palace.

"He probably said that to get SADC's backing," he told reporters.

A foreign diplomat posted in Antananarivo who made several visits to the Iavoloha presidential palace on March 17 said he saw no military presence that day.

"I saw no soldiers, no military vehicles... I witnessed no use of force. President Ravalomanana's supporters just remained there," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.