/ 2 February 2009

Madagascar mayor in push for president’s ouster

The mayor of Madagascar’s capital city Andry Rajoelina on Monday sought the removal of President Marc Ravalomanana in the wake of violent anti-government protests that left dozens dead.

Allies to the Antananarivo mayor delivered a letter to the country’s Constitutional Court (HCC) to consider their demand to oust Ravalomamana, whose regime Rajoelina has branded a dictatorship.

”We have handed a letter addressed to the president of the HCC regarding the removal of the president of the republic,” the mayor’s ally Andriamanjato Ny Hasina told reporters.

”It is now up to the HCC to study the attached documents and make decisions,” he said of the documents listing a series of alleged Constitution violations by Ravalomanana.

But constitutional law experts said only the Senate and the Parliament — where Ravalomanana’s party holds the majority — can initiate an impeachment process.

Rajoelina has in recent days ratcheted up criticism against the government and last Monday called for protests that degenerated into violence, looting and destruction that cost the lives of at least 68 people.

On Saturday, he said he would run the affairs of the country because Ravalomanana and his government were not fulfilling their responsibility and vowed to seek the president’s resignation through Parliament.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, attending an African Union summit in Ethiopia, said on Monday he was very worried about the events on the Indian Ocean island.

”I am particularly concerned about recent developments in Madagascar and urge that all parties address their differences peacefully and through existing constitutional mechanisms,” Ban said.

France also appealed for the rivals to respect ”law and the constitutional order” in its former colony.

”Any peaceful resolution to the crisis must come through talks between the parties,” the Foreign Ministry said.

”We are in touch with all the Madagascan parties,” spokesperson Frederic Desagneux added, promising that France was ready to help mediate a solution.

There were signs, however, that Rajoelina’s protest movement might be losing momentum as ministries, schools and courts resumed work on Monday after the widespread rioting and looting in the capital last week forced their closure.

”I am going to work as usual. But we will see. I am going to gauge the temperature,” one government employee, who gave her name only as Iarisoa, told AFP.

An administrator at a city primary school said: ”Unless otherwise, it is the president who gives orders and with the children it is different, they have to go to school, it is important for their future.”

Earlier at Antananarivo’s May 13 Plaza, a symbolic site of the country’s political struggle, Rajoelina addressed about 5 000 supporters and announced plans to oust the president.

But the attendance numbers were down compared to last week’s mass rallies.

”There are fewer people today. People wanted to return to work. But I think they will return tomorrow when they see that the protest is waning,” said a demonstrator, who gave his name only as Nicolas.

”We need to move quickly. We do not want to waste time like in 2002. We want things to move faster,” said Marina, a 31-year-old protester, referring to months of political impasse after disputed presidential polls in 2001.

Ravalomanana and his younger rival have been at odds since the mayor’s election in 2007.

But their tug-of-war worsened in December when authorities shut Rajoelina’s TV network for airing an interview with former president Didier Ratsiraka.

Madagascar was rocked by riots when tens of thousands turned out for a similar protest on January 25, while another demonstration was held peacefully two days later.

Rajoelina is to kick off a countryside tour from Wednesday, his deputy said. — Sapa-AFP