Thousands gather for fresh Madagascar protests

Police in Madagascar fired warning shots on Monday to disperse thousands of anti-government demonstrators taking part in a rally in the capital, Antananarivo, after a tense stand-off with security forces.

Police fired in the air after a group of protestors threw missiles at security forces near a barracks in the capital, an Agence France-Presse correspondent reported.

About 10 000 protesters had gathered at the city’s main square for a rally in support of Antananarivo’s sacked mayor, Andry Rajoelina, who has called for the removal of President Marc Ravalomanana.

Security forces had earlier blocked access to government buildings after Rajoelina urged a rival administration he named last week to take up their ministerial posts in defiance of the government.

Defence Minister Many Ranaivoniarivo had warned the opposition that “security forces will fulfil their duties” to protect government buildings.

In comments carried by Ravalomanana’s newspaper, he said the authorities had declared “all the ministries and public buildings red zones”.

Rajoelina, who has declared himself in charge of the country’s affairs, has named 12 “ministers” he said would take office on Monday in the latest escalation of political unrest that has claimed the lives of about 100 people.

Rajoelina said in a newspaper interview on Monday he had broken off talks with Ravalomanana’s camp after the leader refused to resign.

“The talks are over, because one of our conditions was the resignation of the president and he does not want to go,” Rajoelina told Le Monde newspaper.

He said he would no longer negotiate with someone “who has blood on his hands” and claimed he had the support of the army.

“The army no longer has confidence, 80% of them are with me,” he said. “I am not talking about generals, for them there is also the issue of money.”

Memories are still fresh in the capital of the February 7 killing of 28 demonstrators after presidential guards opened fire on a protest near the presidential palace. At least 68 others died in violent anti-government protests in late January.

In a statement, African Union Commission chief Jean Ping called on the leaders “to refrain from any action that could undermine the pursuit, in conditions of calm, of the dialogue and negotiations currently taking place”.

Monja Roindefo, named “prime minister” by Rajoelina, had earlier told the rally of police threats not to fire warning shots.

“The police chief said there would be no warning shots.
This means a clear lack of legality in Madagascar as declared by a police chief who claims to be lawful,” Roindefo said.

“Who is lawful? The one who says that you can fire any how on people who are peacefully expressing their demands?”

Monday’s stand-off, and Rajoelina’s reported comments, appeared to defy last week’s comments by French Minister Alain Joyandet that the foes had pledged to refrain from activities that could worsen the crisis.

Envoys from the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc were expected in Madagascar on Monday to try to resolve the crisis.

The AU, United Nations and former colonial power, France, have also recently dispatched envoys in an attempt to foster dialogue between the rival politicians and prevent further bloodshed.

In his first public appearance since the protests erupted, Ravalomanana affirmed on Saturday that he was Madagascar’s leader and intended to remain so until his term ends

At the weekend, the rivals organised parallel rallies in the capital just a kilometre away from each other, which ended peacefully.—Sapa-AFP

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