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Officers take refuge after coup bid

A group of military officers who tried to stage a coup in Madagascar have been holed up in a base near the capital's airport.

President Andry Rajoelina, a former disc jockey who seized power with military backing last year, told reporters the majority of the military was behind him.

The capital Antananarivo was calm, with no sign forces loyal to Rajoelina would try to oust the mutinous officers from the base where they had gathered.

Former President Albert Zafy, who ruled the Indian Ocean island nation from 1993 to 1996, said he supported the officers and their attempt to take power from Rajoelina.

Mr Zafy joined Marc Ravalomanana, the president ousted by Mr Rajoelina, and another former president, Didier Ratsiraka, in trying to seek a negotiated way out of the crisis set off by Mr Rajoelina's rise to power last year.

But Mr Rajoelina has rejected mediation efforts and held a constitutional referendum on Wednesday which would keep him in power until a new president is elected.

That was seen as a bid to stay in power indefinitely because there was no certainty new elections would be held.

The military has grown increasingly impatient with Mr Rajoelina, who has been internationally isolated and accused of trampling on democracy. The West has frozen all but emergency and humanitarian aid for the impoverished island.

Since the island gained independence from France in 1960, soldiers have repeatedly meddled in politics, complicating the struggle to establish stability and democracy.

Most Malagasy, as citizens of the island are called, live in poverty, which ecotourism, vanilla production and the recent discovery of oil have done little to alleviate.

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