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Evacuation over Madagascar coup bid

Soldiers in Madagascar clashed briefly with hundreds of civilians outside a base where dissident military officers have been holed up for three days after attempting a coup.

Earlier, the country's defence minister ordered civilians to clear the area.

General Lucien Rakotoarimasy said the evacuation was not ordered in preparation for an attack but soldiers and vehicles were deployed along a road near the base.

He said negotiations are under way with the mutinous officers who have been at the base near the capital's airport since declaring on Wednesday they were taking over the country from Andry Rajoelina, who himself grabbed power with military backing last year.

Hundreds of civilians ignored the evacuation order and converged on the area to show support for Marc Ravalomanana, the elected president who Mr Rajoelina ousted in a 2009 coup. Soldiers fired tear gas, and the protesters dispersed as heavy rain started to fall. The base itself appeared calm.

The officers at the base include Colonel Charles Andrianasoavina, who last year backed Mr Rajoelina's move to take power from Mr Ravalomanana after months of deadly violence and political turmoil.

Since then, Madagascar has been isolated by the international community and some in the military have grown disenchanted. Mr Rajoelina has rejected international mediation efforts, imposing his own plan that he insisted would lead to new presidential elections some time next year.

Mr Rajoelina's plan included a constitutional referendum held on Wednesday, the day the officers announced their takeover bid. With 12% of results tallied on Friday, the "yes" vote was about 70%.

The proposed new charter largely resembles the existing constitution, but states that the current leader of a so-called High Transitional Authority - Mr Rajoelina - would remain in power until a new president is elected.

There is no certainty new elections would be held. The proposed constitution also sets the minimum age to be president at 35 instead of the current 40. Mr Rajoelina is 36.

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