Madagascar PM says mutiny ends without bloodshed

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by Lovasa Rabary-Rakotondravony

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP)—An attempted coup on this troubled Indian Ocean island has been defused without bloodshed, the Madagascar regime’s prime minister said.

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COUP ATTEMPT FOILED—A government military officer holds a rocket propelled grenade and launcher outside the air-force base near the airport in Antananarivo, Madagascar Nov. 20. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Camille Vital told reporters late Saturday that 16 officers surrendered, ending an impasse that began Wednesday when a faction of officers declared they were taking over from Andry Rajoelina. Rajoelina, a former mayor and disc jockey, himself had the military’s support when he toppled an elected president last year after months of violent protest.

Earlier Saturday, reporters had seen hundreds of soldiers loyal to Rajoelina converge on a base near the capital’s airport where the mutineers were holed up. Officials had said talks were planned, but shots could be heard inside the base.

Col. Julien Ravelomihary, a high-ranking member of the High Transitional Authority’s military, told reporters Saturday that mutinous officers were ready to hand themselves over, but some junior officers initially resisted.

Despite the shooting, Vital said: “This crisis ended with the surrender of the mutineers, without bloodshed or threat to human life.” He said those who surrendered would face trial.

Also Saturday, police fired tear gas to break up a crowd of several hundred anti-Rajoelina demonstrators in central Antananarivo.

Saturday’s protest was led by a mayors’ organization that seeks a negotiated resolution to the crisis. Police say they arrested the group’s leader. No injuries were reported.

The protesting mayors say they also oppose an electoral plan imposed by Rajoelina.

Wednesday’s coup attempt came amid a nationwide vote on Rajoelina’s proposed constitution. The vote went ahead, and incomplete results put the ‘yes’ vote well ahead.

Leaders of Madagascar’s neighbors, meeting Saturday at a regional summit in Botswana, said they did not recognize the referendum as legitimate, and that Rajoelina had been informed of that last month.

The proposed new charter largely resembles the existing constitution, but states that Rajoelina, the current leader of the so-called High Transitional Authority, would remain in power until a new president is elected. There is no certainty new elections will be held. The proposed constitution also sets the minimum age to be president at 35 instead of the current 40. Rajoelina is 36.

Since Madagascar gained independence from France in 1960, soldiers have repeatedly meddled in politics.

Most Malagasy, as the nation’s people are known, live in poverty, which ecotourism, vanilla production and the recent discovery of oil have done little to alleviate.

Madagascar is famed for its lemurs and other unique wildlife and was the inspiration for two animated films of the same name.

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