UPDATE 6-Madagascar troops vow to crush any rebellion

* Security forces disperse opposition protesters

* Rebel officers say will seize airport

* President refuses to quit

* Referendum seen by some as vote of confidence in Rajoelina
(Adds nickel price jumps)
By Alain Iloniaina

ANTANANARIVO, Nov 17 (BestGrowthStock) – Dissident officers declared
a takeover of power in Madagascar on Wednesday, but the island’s
military leadership vowed to crush any rebellion and security
forces dispersed a crowd that had gathered to back the rebels.

Witnesses said about 1,000 people erected a roadblock and
set tyres ablaze near military camps housing the rebel soldiers,
who said they had formed a ruling committee to run the country,
the same day people voted on a new draft constitution.

The security forces stepped in and fired tear gas, chasing
the protesters away.

President Andry Rajoelina, who took power in March 2009 with
the support of some of the same dissident soldiers, said they
threatened to kill him if he did not resign — but he had
refused.

“It’s the people, who are thirsty for change, who made me
head of state. And the majority of them accepts me,” Rajoelina
told reporters. “No one will pay attention to the declarations
of a minority.”

Flanked by the country’s military top brass, Prime Minister
Camille Vital told reporters the security forces would ensure
the rule of law was upheld.

“They tried to have a coup d’etat but so far everything is
under control,” Vital later told France 24 television. “I don’t
know what mosquito bit them, but they have broken ranks and
committed an error.”

Rebel Colonel Charles Andrianasoavina said earlier at the
barracks near the airport that a “military council for the
welfare of the people” had been formed to run the world’s fourth
largest island.

Colonel Andrianasoavina was one of the main backers of
Rajoelina’s power-grab in March last year when he toppled Marc
Ravalomanana. Another senior officer behind Rajoelina then was
also in the rebel group.

“It’s a war of communiques for now but things could
degenerate quickly,” said Madagascar expert Lydie Bokar of the
Lille-based political risk consultancy StrategieCo.

DISSIDENT SOLDIERS VOW ACTION

The tension in Madagascar helped push volatile nickel prices
5 percent higher. The island is home to the Ambatovy project
which is due to be completed by January 2011 and produce 60,000
tonnes of nickel a year once it hits full speed. [ID:nLDE6AG1UP]

Andrianasoavina told Reuters the dissidents were in control
of two adjacent military camps near the airport and that they
would defend their positions overnight.

“Tomorrow, representatives from the other camps should join
us. We will also go out. But I cannot say what we are going to
do,” he said by telephone from the barracks.

“The politicians must launch negotiations to end this saga
once and for all,” he said.

Earlier, the rebel colonel told France 24 that the group
still planned to seize the presidential palace and shut down the
international airport on Thursday. [ID:nLDE6AG1RW]

The country’s military has suffered from rifts since the
2009 coup. A group of dissident military police briefly seized
control of a military camp in May, before being quashed by the
security forces. [ID:nLDE64J0V3]

A Reuters witness said it was calm outside the presidential
palace in the city’s centre and people were strolling about.

OPPOSITION BOYCOTT

Rajoelina scrapped the old constitution after ousting
unpopular leader Ravalomanana with military backing, creating
turmoil on the island targeted by foreign investors for its oil,
nickel, cobalt and uranium deposits.

International mediators brokered a series of power sharing
agreements between Rajoelina, Ravalomanana and two other former
presidents, but they all collapsed in bickering over the
allocation of ministerial posts.

Voters cast their ballots peacefully at more than 18,000
polling stations. Counting has started and the electoral
commission is expected to release some partial results later on
Wednesday.

Some opposition supporters said they had taken to the
streets near the barracks to vent their anger with Rajoelina.

“Whether the result is Yes or No, Rajoelina will be
destroyed,” said Nirina Rafenomanana. “We will no longer
tolerate what is happening to this country.”

The three main opposition parties, each headed by one of the
former presidents, boycotted the referendum.

The new constitution lowers the minimum age for a president
by five years to 35, which would regularise 36-year-old
Rajoelina’s rule and allow him to renege on a previous pledge
that he will not contest the next vote slated for May 4, 2011.

“I just voted because I would like to see changes when it
comes to governance. If I had not voted, then there would be no
changes. Whether you vote yes or no, you are already on your way
to find a solution,” said Aha Randriamahefa in the capital.
(Additional reporting by Faniry Rasoanaivo in Antananarivo and
John Irish in Paris; Writing by David Clarke; editing by Richard
Lough and Ralph Boulton)

UPDATE 6-Madagascar troops vow to crush any rebellion