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27 Jan 2009 10:17
The leader of anti-government demonstrations in Madagascar said on Tuesday he would not talk with the government until those behind the death of an opposition supporter were brought to justice.
But Andry Rajoelina, the 34-year-old mayor of Antananarivo, said he was calling off plans for another day of protests after Monday’s demonstrations degenerated into the worst day of street violence for years on the Indian Ocean island.
That revived memories of past political volatility on Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, and will not help the government’s efforts to present the nation as a tourist haven and sound destination for investment in mining and oil.
“There will be no meeting nor dialogue [with the president] until the military personnel who killed one of my supporters are held to account,” Rajoelina told local radio.
He had been expected to hold talks with President Marc Ravalomanana to try to halt the political crisis.
“Everybody should remain at home to prove that we are not the ones responsible for this criminal damage,” he added.
While the opposition said one supporter had been killed, a security source said two people died in the chaos when crowds set fire to a state media building and ransacked shops. A policeman and teenager died then, the source said.
Authorities have not given an official death toll.
Rajoelina is angry at the closure of his private Viva TV station in December and denounces Ravalomanana as a dictator.
The president, a 59-year-old dairy tycoon in power since 2002, accuses the mayor of trying to stir a revolt.
Gangs continued to ransack shops linked to the president, who has a large business empire, under cover of darkness.
“The looting continued through the entire night”, said the city’s police commissioner Francis Randrianantoandro.
“We have arrested 27 people.”
The violence comes as Madagascar is going through an oil and minerals exploration boom.
Madagascar has a history of volatile politics.
In December 2001, both Ravalomanana and his predecessor Didier Ratsiraka claimed victory in presidential elections.
Eight months of political instability and sporadic violence followed before a court upheld Ravalomanana’s victory.
Ratsiraka fled to France where he remains in exile.
A local academic said Ravalomanana had lost support. “The president has little room for manoeuvre. It is he who must make concessions because he lacks popularity,” said Jean-Eric Rakotoarisoa, law lecturer at the University of Antananarivo.
“What we need is for this government to resign and a transitional government to be established,”
Residents of Antananarivo fear a return to the political deadlock and economic decline of the early 2000s.
“If there is no dialogue then this will descend into total chaos,” said one opposition supporter, who was unwilling to give his name because of fears of reprisals.—Reuters
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