Thousands protest at Madagascar 'coup'

Thousands of Madagascans on Tuesday demonstrated for a second consecutive day against Andry Rajoelina’s army-backed removal of Marc Ravalomanana as president of the Indian Ocean island.

Protestors came in larger numbers than on Monday and numbered close to 10 000 for a rally in the capital’s Ambohijatovo gardens to condemn Rajoelina’s “coup”, an Agence France-Presse correspondent reported.

Some waved 2006 electoral campaign banners of ex-president Ravalomanana and sang campaign songs from the same period. The crowd also burst into an emotional rendition of the national anthem.

While the crowd dispersed peacefully, there were some scuffles between about 200 youths and supporters of Rajoelina. Another demonstration has been called for Wednesday.

“I am very optimistic about the future of this movement,” Andrianatoandro Raharinaivo, a spokesperson for Ravalomanana’s TIM party, told AFP at the rally.

“Our aim is the return to constitutional and legal order,” he added.

“We welcome the stance adopted by the world’s great democracies who have rejected Andry Rajoelina’s takeover.”

Rajoelina, who only became the undisputed leader of the opposition two months ago, took the oath as president of a transition authority on Saturday at an inauguration ceremony attended by about 40 000 supporters.

Ravalomanana (59) had resigned as president on March 17, under pressure from the army, clearing the way for Rajoelina after a bitter three-month power struggle during which about 100 civilians died.

Rajoelina promptly suspended Parliament and said fresh elections might take two years to organise, drawing a barrage of criticism from Western donors and regional powers who describe his takeover as a coup.

Alain Andriamiseza, head of the Democratic Alliance, meanwhile presented himself as the movement of an alternative force representing a third way out of the political crisis.

“We do not agree with Rajoelina having seized power by force, but I don’t think the return of Ravalomanana is the right solution because he has made mistakes,” he said.

Ravalomanana himself meanwhile was in Swaziland on Tuesday to meet King Mswati III ahead of a regional summit on the crisis in the island nation.

Leaders from the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) will meet in the Swazi capital on Monday to discuss possible sanctions against new army-backed leader Rajoelina.

Ravalomanana was due to meet the king late on Tuesday, said the principle secretary in the Swazi foreign ministry Clifford Mamba.

“I should think he will brief his majesty on the developments in his home country,” said Mamba.

Ravalomanana had not yet confirmed if he would remain in Mbabane for the summit, he added.

In Madagascar, government spokesperson Augustin Andriamananoro dismissed Ravalomanana’s visit as a bid to grab the limelight.

“He has the ear of a part of the SADC which has the same interests as he does,” he added.
- AFP

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