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Families evacuated in Madagascar coup bid

Families living near an army barracks where a rebel group of soldiers are holed up have been evacuated in Madagascar.

"We ask families living in the Ivato camp and residents of the surrounding area to temporarily leave the area for a safer place," the defence ministry said on national radio and television today (Friday).

Roadblocks have been set up in the surrounding area and schools have been evacuated. Ministers say talks with the rebels have started.

About 20 soldiers staged an attempted coup and are inside the camp, which is about nine miles from the capital, Antananarivo, close to the city's international airport.

Wednesday's unrest started as Madagascans voted on a new constitution designed to give the country, off the south east of Africa, a fresh political start after more than 18 months of political turmoil.

On Wednesday, the soldiers said that they had taken over control of the country and that all government institutions would be suspended and they would soon seize the airport and the presidential palace.

But those plans haven’t materialised, and the soldiers, who include the former army chief of staff, Noel Rakotonandrasana have kept a low profile since.

On Wednesday, President Andry Rajoelina , who himself came to power through rebel soldiers in 2009 — said most of the army backed him.

The government is in talks with the soldiers. But one of the ringleaders, Colonel Charles Andrianasoavina, told Reuters news agency by phone: “There are no negotiations. It isn’t us who will make the first steps.’’

Madagascar, a poor nation of 20 million people off Africa’s eastern coast, has been in political turmoil for almost two years. The island is very vulnerable to tropical cyclones, which bring torrential rains and destructive floods, such as the ones in 2000 and 2004, which left thousands homeless.

Rajoelina took power from a democratically elected president, Marc Ravalomanana, whose popularity dropped amid charges that he was using his power to pursue his own financial interests. Ravalomanana had been voted into office twice and when he was ousted, international donors, vital to the country’s development withheld aid money. On Wednesday, Rajoelina asked people to vote on a new constitution, a document seen by his opponents as a crafty way for him to stay in office and legitimise his rule of Madagascar, which has been dogged by instability for several years. He is a former DJ and mayor of the capital city and rose to power on a wave of popular support.

Hayley attribution