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09 Mar 2009 17:02
Madagascar’s opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, embroiled in a power struggle with the island’s president, has been placed under UN protection, a UN official said on Monday.
“In line with efforts to resolve the Madagascan crisis, and preserve peace and stability, the United Nations decided to place Mr Rajoelina under its protection in a diplomatic residence,” said Tiebile Drame, the UN envoy to Madagascar’s political crisis.
Rajoelina has been in hiding since security forces attempted to arrest him last week.
“Mr Andry Rajoelina had recently expressed worry about his security to several international community representatives,” Drame said.
The UN official also said President Marc Ravalomanana had pledged to “guarantee the security of Mr Rajoelina and the security of his aides.”
“The president of the republic said they could move freely and that they will not be arrested,” Drame said in a statement.
At the weekend, Rajoelina said he was in hiding in a “safe location” after security forces also ransacked his private Viva television and radio network.
‘Not a mutiny’
Meanwhile soldiers at a key army base in the country, who said they were defying orders to put down opposition protests, denied on Monday that they had staged a mutiny.
“This is not a mutiny,” their spokesperson, Colonel Noel Rakotonandrasana, told reporters a day after troops declared that they would no longer cooperate with government repression of a three-month-old opposition movement.
Security forces had foiled several opposition rallies in Antananarivo and other towns since Wednesday, leading to clashes that left at least four people dead.
“We cannot accept the repression of the civilian population,” said the colonel.
He appealed to other members of the security forces to join his men’s protest, adding that a number of army officers had already pledged their support.
It was unclear on Monday how many troops were involved in the campaign, but the base at which it has taken root, located about 6km from the centre of the capital, is one of the army’s most important.
President Marc Ravalomanana, who has formally banned anti-government demonstrations that have roiled the Indian Ocean island since January, described the soldiers’ protests as mutiny in a statement released by his office.
Around 50 troops left the camp early on Monday to arrest looters who were trashing a supermarket in the Tanjombato district of the capital, an AFP journalist said.
“We do not want to intervene against demonstrators, but we will act against looters,” said one of the soldiers on condition of anonymity.
Around 5 000 anti-government demonstrators marched peacefully in the centre of the capital, Antananarivo, on Monday.
Rajoelina did not attend the protest.
More than 100 people have been killed in clashes in the last three months.—Sapa-AFP
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