Madagascar's president Andry Rajoelina, under international pressure not to seek re-election in July, has set out the terms under which he would withdraw from the race, but warned that the spectre of civil war loomed over the Indian Ocean island.
Madagascar has been in political crisis since 2009 when Rajoelina seized power with military support, ousting former President Marc Ravalomanana and triggering turmoil that scared off investors and devastated the vital tourism sector.
Both Rajoelina, a former disc jockey, and Ravalomanana, a wealthy businessman now in exile in South Africa, said several months ago that they would not contest the July 24 presidential election.
But earlier in May Rajoelina reneged on his promise and vowed to contest the election, saying the deal between the two foes had been broken when Ravalomanana's wife put herself forward as a presidential candidate.
Rajoelina's volte-face, which raised political and economic uncertainty on the island, was condemned by the African Union (AU), which said it would not recognise him as the country's president even if he won the July poll.
"I am willing to withdraw my candidacy if others do it as well," Rajoelina told local media on Friday evening, referring to Ravalomanana's wife.
The incumbent also called for two-time president Didier Ratsiraka, who spent the last 11 years in exile in France, to withdraw from the race, along with other candidates including some of Rajoelina's allies in what the AU called a 2009 coup.
Rajoelina also warned the country may be destabilised if he stepped down too soon before the election. Under election rules, the leader must step aside 60 days before the poll date.
"Who can guarantee ... that if I resign, there will be peace in the country," he said. "I cannot accept a divide between Malagasy people and a civil war."
Rajoelina said he feared the island, a source of cobalt, nickel and ilmenite, was on a path to civil war.
"I should do everything possible to avoid this from happening in Madagascar."