Ravalomanana's men march to victory

President Marc Ravalomanana of Madagascar on Saturday consolidated key territorial gains made the previous day, and aside from violent incidents in one town, faced no opposition in his progress towards winning a long power-struggle with former leader Didier Ratsiraka.

In the morning, Ravalomanana’s forces had to contend with militiamen loyal to his rival in the northwestern port city of Mahajanga, one of three of the Indian Ocean island’s towns taken from Ratsiraka’s control without a fight on Friday.

“Young pro-Ratsiraka militiamen wanted to take on those supporting Ravalomanana who had attacked the brother of one of Ratsiraka’s former ministers,” a doctor in Mahajanga said.

“The troops that had come from Antananarivo intervened, firing shots in the air and throwing grenades,” he told AFP by telephone.

“One youth was hit by a stray bullet, but his condition is not critical,” he said.

Another person was admitted to hospital with gunshot wounds, while a third person was receiving treatment after being hit by a car while he was fleeing the violence, hospital officials said.

One of Ravalomanana’s senior officers confirmed that at midday residents had taken to looting and trashing shops owned by people accused of collaborating with Ratsiraka, the long-time ruler of the island who has refused to concede defeat to Ravalomanana in a December election.
Calm was restored in the early afternoon.

In a separate development, five mutilated bodies, thought to be those of Ravalomanana’s soldiers, were found Saturday on the small tourist isle of Nosy Be, which lies off the northwest coast.

Rival forces had clashed earlier in the week on Nosy Be.

In areas of Madagascar still in the hands of Ratsiraka, who has been engaged in a bitter power struggle with Ravalomanana for six months, there were no reports of hostilities or important troop movements.

Ratsiraka himself left for France on Thursday, but reiterated on Friday that he had not fled his country and would return.

Ravalomanana’s forces paraded on Saturday morning in Mahajanga, the large port and capital of the province by the same name before entering government offices, residents contacted by telephone said.

Their capture of the city had been made all the easier by the fact that supposedly pro-Ratsiraka soldiers and militia there joined them and that local authorities had fled in advance.

In the southwestern port of Toliara, the second provincial capital taken without a fight on Friday, and in Vohemar, a port in the northeast, the scenes were the same: parades and inspections of public buildings.

Vohemar was taken as a stepping stone to the larger port and arsenal at Antsiranana, also a provincial capital, thought to be more heavily defended by forces still loyal to Ratsiraka.

The other major target in Ravalomanana’s sights is the eastern port of Toamasina, where Ratsiraka has set up a parallel government. Over the last two weeks, troops have frequently left the capital, Antananarivo, and taken up positions near Brickaville, about 100 kilometres from Toamasina, Madagascar’s second largest city and main port.

Ratsiraka’s men in February set up their first of a series of nationwide roadblocks aimed at cutting off the flow of vital goods to the capital in Brickaville. Witnesses in both Antsiranana and Toamasina said that jobless youths in poorer areas had been recruited to join Ratsiraka’s forces.

Also Saturday, in Paris, about 500 Madagascans gathered outside their embassy to celebrate Ratsiraka’s departure from the island and to call on France to recognise Ravalomanana. - AFP

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