Sir Harry Tirvengadum has resigned as chairman of Cote d'Ivoire-based Air Afrique, citing health reasons, but amid claims that political pressure was brought to bear.

Tirvengadum asked to be released from his contract as chairman of the troubled multinational carrier on 29 January, after just two years in the job. Air Afrique says: "-Sir Harry has named health reasons and expressed his regret at being obliged to make such a serious decision in the present circumstances... but [he] remains convinced of Air Afrique as an integrating tool for Africa".

Tirvengadum told a local newspaper that his health had deteriorated during the past few months because of the stress and tensions of running a multinational airline. A bad heart, and the advice of his family and doctor, forced him to relinquish his post, the report says.

The resignation, however, has re-ignited long-running speculation that Trivengadum, a Mauritian national and Air Afrique's first chairman from outside the French-speaking establishment, was coming under increasing political pressure. Sources within the airline claim that he came under direct "pressure to resign" and that he had not shown signs of wanting to leave. The source adds that the majority of Air Afrique employees are saddened by the chairman's departure.

There have been previous hints that Tirvengadum may not have had the full support of France or some francophone African politicians.

The carrier's 11 African owner states are all former French colonies while Air France (and therefore the French Government) is also a shareholder. Air France is known to be interested in increasing its 12.7% stake in Air Afrique if the airline's privatisation proceeds as planned, next year.

Under the gregarious chairman's leadership, the airline achieved profits of CFA8 billion ($13.8 million) last year, double previous forecasts.

The airline says: "An interim Directional Committee, led by senior administrator Konate Fousseni, will run the company during this period. We urge our owner countries' heads of state to nominate a new chairman during February."

On 30 January, the Air Afrique board named Tijane Sylla, the Minister of Tourism and Air Transport in Senegal, as its new president. Sylla replaces Ousmane Issoufou Oubandawaki, who has been appointed managing director of Asecna, the interstate agency which oversees aviation safety and navigation among the French-speaking states of West Africa.

Source: Airline Business