Madagascar’s President Marc Ravalomanana, facing demands from the opposition that he step down from office, told crowds outside his presidential palace on Sunday that he was willing to test his support in a referendum, news organizations reported.
His statement was carried by Agence France-Presse and a BBC World News television bulletin.
On Saturday the opposition, led by the axed mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, claimed power, and Rajoelina gave the president a four-hour deadline to resign. Ravalomanana refused and supporters gathered around his palace to defend him.
AFP reported that he emerged from the palace on Sunday to tell a crowd of 5,000: “I remain in power. I have no fear of a referendum if necessary."
From abroad, leaders in Addis Ababa and Washington DC called on all parties to exercise restraint while negotiations for a peaceful and constitutional solution to the crisis continued.
African Union Commission chair Jean Ping called on all parties to “refrain from any action that could undermine the [country’s] institutions,… further complicate the search for a solution and seriously undermine civil peace and stability.”
He said the AU was determined to find “a negotiated and peaceful solution to the current crisis, within the framework of legality and relevant instruments of the AU.”
From Washington, Senator Russ Feingold, chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Africa sub-committee, said he was worried the country may be on the brink of civil war.
“I understand the frustration of many Malagasy who feel their government has done little to address their impoverished conditions,” he said, “but I encourage them to express their grievances non-violently.”
He also commended Malagasy military leaders on their commitment last week to keep out of the political process and urged them to abide by it.
AFP reported that the army said on Saturday that it would stay out of the dispute. But the agency quoted chief of staff Colonel Andre Andriarijaona as saying it might back the opposition if "if it would restore calm."