Andry Rajoelina says that he will not run in Madagascar's May presidential elections, a decision that could end the political crisis there.
"I will not be a candidate at the elections, I will sacrifice myself for the sake of the 20-million Malagasy," he said in a prime-time TV address to the nation.
Rajoelina had been under fierce international pressure not to run in the polls, as a way to end an almost four-year crisis that has led to a range of sanctions that have crippled the island state's economy.
"I will manage the transition until the end and I am ready to make a democratic transition. I wish all the best to whomever will replace me," he said.
The man Rajoelina ousted in a military-backed coup, former president Marc Ravalomanana, already heeded calls not to run in the elections.
He remains in exile in South Africa.
The dual announcements mean the first round of elections on May 8 will open a new chapter in Madagascar's coup-prone politics. Rajoelina and Ravalomanana have dominated the political scene for the last decade, their rivalry defining the nation's politics.
The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), a 15-nation regional bloc that has been mediating in the crisis, and the European Union had pressed for just such a "neither, nor" solution as a means of ending the gridlock.
"Anything that promotes and encourages peace and quiet is extremely positive," EU ambassador to Madagascar Leonidas Tezapsidis said after Rajoelina's speech. The international community is expected to stump up for a large part of the election's $71-million price tag.
But it is unlikely to be smooth sailing ahead. Ravalomanana's camp greeted its rival's announcement coolly.
"Andry Rajoelina has followed SADC's recommendations. It is just one element. There are many other measures that have to take place," said Ravalomanana ally Mamy Rakotoarivelo.
Ahead of the presidential vote the country was due to hold legislative elections, which could provide ample scope for unrest.
The decision to move the legislative vote, also announced on Tuesday, was described as "changing the rules in the middle of the game", by the Ravalomanana camp. Its champion's proposed return from exile could also provide a flashpoint.
Ravalomanana made several failed attempts to return to the island off south-east Africa, but faces a host of legal challenges. He was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment over the killing of 36 protesters by presidential guards during the 2009 unrest that led to his downfall.
The 63-year-old, who started out his career as a milkman, clinched the presidency in a 2001 election after serving as mayor of the capital but was criticised for an increasingly autocratic and corruption-tainted rule.
Rajoelina (38) is a former radio disc jockey who also served as mayor of the capital before ousting Ravalomanana on the back of a wave of violent protests.
Madagascar remains one of the poorest nations on earth. – AFP