Anxious Malagasy await crisis denouement

Fearful parents led children to school past soldiers armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles this morning as Madagascar waited to see if the army would launch an assault on the president.
“It terrifies me to see the military in the streets. Last night took me by surprise,” said one resident, who called himself Tovo, stopping to look at a presidential palace seized by the army after dark on Monday.
Most of the Indian Ocean island’s army has thrown its lot in with young opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, who is demanding the resignation of President Marc Ravalomanana.
Soldiers took the city-centre presidential palace and the central bank on Monday, but have so far held back on a final assault against Ravalomanana.
Reuters reports residents think that could come soon.
Ravalomanana is holed up in another palace that is his residence on the outskirts of Antananarivo. He is protected by presidential guards, and hundreds of supporters are milling around in streets outside.
Though politically isolated, Ravalomanana knows the international community would condemn the violent overthrow of an elected president, and has vowed to fight to the death.
On Tuesday, scores of onlookers gathered at a road-block to peer at the army-occupied presidential palace and ponder the military’s next move. 
Rajoelina, a 34-year-old former disc jockey and sacked mayor of Antananarivo, has been calling for Ravalomanana’s resignation since the start of 2009 and now wants him arrested. He calls the president a dictator running Madagascar like a private firm.
Rajoelina was scheduled to appear at another opposition rally later on Tuesday.
Ravalomanana, 59, is holed up in another presidential palace on the outskirts of the capital, with supporters forming a human shield on roads outside.
The president, who himself came to power after eight months of unrest following a disputed 2002 election, has offered a referendum and says he will not leave by non-democratic means.
“This is becoming a military coup,” said presidential spokesman Andry Ralijaona. “The presidential guard told him he should be placed elsewhere, and he replied, ‘I will die with you if I have to’. That’s his stand.”
Rajoelina says he is impatient to take office and has set up his own parallel administration, but his push for power is complicated by fear of alienating foreign powers.
While presenting himself as a reformer and democrat, Rajoelina is trying to force his opponent out without a vote.
The African Union (AU), whose next summit was scheduled to take place in Madagascar, has condemned the “attempted coup d’etat” in Madagascar. The European Union has said it will cut aid and shun anyone coming to power by force. 
The outside world is astonished by the rapid turn of events in Madagascar, driven, it seems, by Rajoelina’s personal determination to topple Ravalomanana as fast as possible.
The charismatic Rajoelina, who is given to sweeping statements and demands, has led protests since the start of 2009, tapping into public discontent with the levels of poverty.
The president’s supporters say Rajoelina is a troublemaker bent on seizing power illegally.
Analysts thought Rajoelina may have over-played his hand by claiming he was Madagascar’s de facto leader early on in the crisis, but the balance of power appears to be swinging his way.
The army chief of staff says 99 percent of soldiers are behind Rajoelina, though the president says significant sections remain with him. One senior military source, who asked not to be named, said Ravalomanana had asked two army loyalists to take over the presidency, but both had declined.
A solution is needed fast, diplomats say, to prevent further bloodshed and save an economy whose $390 million-a-year tourism sector is collapsing.