Madagascar sacks army chief after coup threat

Madagascar’s army chief was sacked and replaced on Wednesday, the military said, a day after he warned leaders that his troops would take power unless a months-long political crisis was resolved.

The move came as opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, locked in a power struggle with President Marc Ravalomanana since the start of the year, said he would boycott reconciliation talks this week.

“It’s a categoric refusal,” spokesperson Augustin Andriamananoro told AFP, referring to the two-day conference which was due to start on Thursday.

He added that it was not the right time for the talks and that church leaders who were acting as mediators lacked the credibility to organise the discussions. He reiterated opposition calls on the president to resign.

New army chief Andre Andriarijaona was sworn in at a ceremony at military headquarters in the capital Antananarivo.

He replaces General Edmond Rasolofomahandry, who on Tuesday issued feuding party leaders with a 72-hour ultimatum to resolve a violent stand-off between the opposition and the government which has killed more than 100 people since January.

Andriarijaona suggested in a speech that his predecessor had been removed after “negotiations” among senior officers, a signal that the president, who normally appoints the army chief, was no longer in control of the armed forces.

“Negotiations with the general were completed in the fraternity worthy of the army. Now all the corps in Madagascar are behind me, and our cohesion has not been affected,” the new military chief said.

The army has increasingly expressed frustration over orders to put down anti-government protests, which to date have claimed more than 100 lives, mostly at the hands of the security forces.

Troops at an important military base near the capital said on Sunday they would in future reject such orders, but denied they were staging a mutiny.

The army forced the Defence Minister, Mamy Ranaivoniarivo, to resign on Tuesday.
A military committee had demanded he step down for ordering soldiers to put down the demonstrations.

Rasolofomahandry was present at Wednesday’s ceremony but did not speak publicly.

A sergeant told AFP on the sidelines of the ceremony that the decision to replace the chief of staff was prompted by a need to “unify the military forces”.

“We are no longer accepting orders from the president, because he’s the one who created the problems which have destroyed the cohesion of the national forces,” the soldier said on condition of anonymity.

Rajoelina, who took refuge for several days in the French embassy after evading arrest by security forces, has led a wave of opposition protests against Ravalomanana’s rule since the start of the year.

Pro- and anti-government protesters clashed in the capital on Tuesday, leaving at least 19 people injured, hospital sources said.

Two people were shot dead the day before and more than 30 were injured, some by gunshots, as a crowd looted a supermarket.

The United States State Department has said it is allowing non-essential staff to leave its embassy as it issued a new travel warning over “escalating civil unrest.”

Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest countries and Rajoelina’s criticism of the Ravalomanana’s economic and social policies has struck a chord with large portions of the population.—Sapa-AFP

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