Madagascar's coup-appointed premier has resigned along with his government to open the way for a new premier to be chosen by consensus to lead a transitional government that will end the Indian Ocean island's two-year political crisis.
The breakthrough came after South Africa sent a delegation last week to negotiate with coup leader Andry Rajoelina and other stakeholders to implement a roadmap brokered by Southern African states and signed last month by leaders in Madagascar and the ousted President Marc Ravalomanana, who is living in South Africa.
Brig. Gen. Albert Camille Vitalis resigned as premier in a letter to Rajoelina dated Monday and received Tuesday.
"To allow you to take on this heavy task in all serenity, I have the honor to submit my resignation as well as that of the government I lead," Vitalis wrote.
The island's largely impoverished population has suffered untold misery, with the United Nations reporting half the 20 million people were hungry in June, since Rajoelina toppled Ravalomanana in 2009. Foreign aid was suspended in protest, investors backed off and the economy ground to a near halt.
Madagascar's unique biodiversity also has suffered, with rain forests of precious rosewood and giant palms being pillaged amid the instability and already endangered forest animals being killed for food including lemurs _ those mouse-sized, wide-eyed primates found only on the island. The World Wildlife Fund reported that some endangered species were being exported as pets to places like China.
Under the peace plan, a prime minister is to be appointed by consensus by Nov. 1 and a transitional government and Parliament by Nov. 17. An act of Parliament ratifying the roadmap must be enacted by the end of November, before the appointment of an independent electoral commission.
In 2009, Rajoelina, a former disc jockey then 34 years old _ too young to be president under a constitution he has since rewritten _ seized power with the army's backing.
Before taking over, he had led months of street protests accusing the democratically elected Ravalomanana of doing too little to help the impoverished majority _ 85 percent of islanders survive on less than $2 a day.
At one stage, Rajoelina supporters set fire to several buildings. Scores of people were killed. Days later, soldiers opened fire on protesters, killing at least 25. The incident cost Ravalomanana much of the support of the military.
Ravalomanana fled into exile in South Africa, and Rajoelina had resisted Southern African efforts to restore democracy.
After visiting Madagascar last week, South Africa's International Relations and Cooperation Minister Marius Fransman said Southern African leaders were concerned that some people were acting "to destabilize the country and derail the process."
That appeared to refer to Rajoelina's refusal to allow the return of Ravalomanana, who was convicted in absentia last year of conspiracy to commit murder in a case related to the turmoil during the coup. The court was appointed by Rajoelina and Ravalomanana called it illegitimate.