Ravalomanana swears in "prime minister"

Presidential contender Marc Ravalomanana on Tuesday further raised the political temperature in Madagascar as he set about establishing his own alternative government.

He appointed former foreign minister Jacques Sylla as his prime minister and indicated that he would be selecting an alternative cabinet by Wednesday.

Ravalomanana had himself sworn in as president on Friday prompting the government of President Didier Ratsiraka to impose a state of emergency on the Indian Ocean island.

In Madagascar's deepening political crisis, the first deaths were reported on Monday when two opposition supporters were killed. The home of a pro-government member of parliament was torched by opposition militants.

Roads to strategic towns on the island are still blocked by mobs.

UN Development Programme Resident Representative Adama Guindo said: "The situation is quiet in 'Tananarive' (Antananarivo), and the armed forces continue to keep away from the political crisis."

Ravalomanana, the wealthy and charismatic mayor of the capital city, refused to accept the results of a presidential election held in December last year. The official results declared that he had won, but had not scooped more than 50 percent of the vote, and a high court ordered that he face Ratsiraka in a run-off poll.

Ravalomanana's supporters have embarked on a general strike that has shutdown the capital city of Antananarivo for weeks. Government, meanwhile, has announced the second poll is to take place on 24 March.

In an update on the situation, Guindo said that Syla was appointed after playing a role in efforts to negotiate a settlement with Ratsiraka's government.

Guindo told IRIN: "Mr Sylla is well known to the diplomatic community and is originally from Tamatave on the east coast, like President Ratsiraka."

There was no reaction from Ratsiraka's office to the appointment, Guindo said.

Madagascar's official prime minister meanwhile was forced to flee his home on Tuesday after it was surrounded by opposition supporters.

"For the second consecutive day, President Ratsiraka's Prime Minister, Tantely Andrianarivo, was blocked in his residence by supporters of Marc Ravalomanana and had to flee through adjacent rice farms escorted by security forces," Guindo said.

The national radio and national TV were shut down by unknown individuals as they attempted to broadcast Ravalomanana's swearing in of Sylla.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, has expressed deep concern at the situation since the disputed poll on 16 December 2001.

Annan said he "rejects any attempts to take power outside of constitutional procedures" urging a negotiated solution to the crisis.