Shots fired as Madagascar's ex-president denounces 'coup'

Madagascar police fired shots on Wednesday after supporters of the island’s toppled leader clashed with those backing his foe, as former president Marc Ravalomanana urged his people to “save the nation”.

“It is up to us, it is up to you, it is up to me ... to save the nation, defend the union and our national unity,” said Ravalomanana in a pre-recorded message at a rally of about 10 000 people in the capital Antananarivo.

“Madagascar was on the road to development and now they are destroying our country with their coup,” said Ravalomanana in his first comments after being forced to resign last week following a three-month power struggle.

Police fired warning shots in the air to disperse the crowd, which held up banners dating back to Ravalomanana’s 2006 election campaign and proclaimed, “Father, the country is waiting for you.”

The action came after scuffles between the rival political movements broke out towards the end of the rally, after a broadcast of Ravolomanana’s message.

Andry Rajoelina, a former mayor of the capital who replaced him, was also backed by street protests but crucially won the support of the large Indian Ocean island nation’s armed forces at the height of the tussle for power.

Ravalomanana is currently in Swaziland ahead of a meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a 15-nation regional bloc which will discuss possible sanctions against Rajoelina at a meeting next week.

The crowd gathered in downtown Antananarivo on Wednesday, the third day in a row that Ravalomanana’s supporters have protested against Rajoelina, who was sworn in as president by the Constitutional Court last Saturday.

The former president pledged to return to power.

“I thank God because I’m alive,” he said in Swaziland. “Already a week ago, power was looted, and that’s why I left. Be confident, I support you and we shall see each other again soon.”

The mood of protest toughened in Antananarivo on Wednesday.

“Andry miala [Andry get out],” shouted demonstrators at the central May 13 Square, where the new head of state had rallied his own supporters before the backlash.

Desire Rakotoramanana, a civil servant who has joined the anti-Rajoelina movement, called from the podium for the resignation by Friday of new Finance Minister Binja Razafimahaleo, who demonstrators accused of “stealing money”.

Rajoelina, a one-time disc jockey who was sacked by Ravalomanana as mayor of Antananarivo, also faces growing international opposition after his rise to power with military support.

The African Union has already announced Madagascar’s suspension even though it is due to hold the pan-continental body’s next summit while the United States and European Union have condemned his accession as a “coup”.

Ravalomanana (59) had resigned as president on March 17, after the army stormed his offices, clearing the way for Rajoelina after a bitter struggle during which around 100 civilians died.

After taking power, Rajoelina promptly suspended Parliament and said fresh elections might take two years to organise, drawing a barrage of criticism from Western donors.

But on Tuesday night, the transitional government announced that political parties will in April be invited to a national forum in order to arrange for a presidential election.

The spokesperson of the TIM party that backs Ravalomanana, Andrianatoandro Raharinaivo, said he “agreed” to such a forum but stressed it should be “organised under the aegis of a totally independent body, like the United Nations”.—Sapa-AFP



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