Maverick mayor says Madagascar is dictatorship

Antananarivo’s mayor upped his challenge to the Madagascan regime on Friday, charging it had imposed an iron-fisted dictatorship on the Indian Ocean island.

“There is now a general dictatorship in Madagascar because the state, the president and the government no longer listen to the population,” Andry Rajoelina told reporters on Friday.

Rajoelina ran against President Marc Ravalomana’s party as an independent candidate in municipal elections in 2007 and since taking office has grown into the regime’s most vocal opponent.

Ravalomanana was re-elected in December 2006 polls and other elections since have generally tightened his grip on power, but the 34-year-old mayor of the island’s capital is proving a thorn in the president’s side.

Rajoelina has recently and repeatedly condemned what he says are shrinking freedoms in Madagascar and also fiercely criticised a massive project to lease vast swathes of farmland to South Korean industrial giant Daewoo.

“We cannot turn a blind eye on these developments, so we rise up to protest, and I speak at a national level for the entire population,” Rajoelina said.

The tug-of-war between the Antananarivo mayor and the president intensified on December 13 when the government closed down Rajoelina’s television network “Viva” after it broadcast an interview with former president Didier Ratsiraka.

Ratsiraka ruled the island for 25 years and has lived in France since 2002 after losing a deadly political struggle with Ravalomanana.

The president’s critics accuse him of becoming increasingly authoritarian and of failing to yank the country out of extreme poverty.

On January 17, Rajoelina inaugurated a new square in the capital and named it “Democracy Square”, in a move widely interpreted as a message to the regime.

The inauguration was attended by 20 000 people and Rajoelina called for another mass gathering on Saturday.

“I call on civil servants, students, entrepreneurs and everybody else to unite and go forward, so that what we can witness an end to what is happening today,” Rajoelina said.—Sapa-AFP

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