Hundreds protest Madagascar president's removal

Hundreds of supporters of Madagascar’s ousted president Marc Ravalomanana staged a fresh protest on Wednesday, as his party said it would boycott a meeting organised by the transitional government.

Pro-Ravalomanana demonstrators for the first time decided to occupy the capital Antananarivo’s May 13 square, which had been the main staging ground for supporters of the country’s new army-backed head Andry Rajoelina when he was still opposition leader.

“We entered May 13 square at 10.30am [7.30am GMT]. There was a short speech to make the point that we are here to stay,” said Alain Andriamiseza, one of the movement’s leaders.

The protestors had tried to hold a rally there on Saturday but were barred by security forces and supporters loyal to the Indian Ocean state’s new regime.

Ravalomanana resigned on March 17 under pressure from the army and a popular movement led by Rajoelina, a 34-year-old former disc jockey who became the country’s undisputed opposition leader earlier this year.

His challenge of what he described as Ravalomanana’s dictatorial rule was marked by almost daily protests on May 13 square.

But the 59-year-old ousted leader said he was forced to step down at gunpoint, a claim the army denied.

“I never resigned. I was forced to hand power over, at gunpoint,” he said in a speech this week at the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit.

“My family and I were surrounded by soldiers threatening our lives.

My son and his wife were forced to hide in the forest.
The only escape for us was out of the country,” he said.

He said Rajoelina had dispatched troops to the presidential palace where he was holed up, dispersing loyalist supporters and taking over the building.

But Madagascan army chief of staff Andre Andriarijaona denied the military had marched on the president’s palace.

“He probably said that to get SADC’s backing,” he said.

A foreign diplomat posted in Antananarivo who made several visits to the Iavoloha presidential palace on March 17 said he saw no military presence that day.

“I saw no soldiers, no military vehicles ... I witnessed no use of force. President Ravalomanana’s supporters just remained there,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Ravalomanana’s party spokesman said they would boycott a two-day national forum over the country’s political crisis to begin on Thursday and would instead hold their own conference the following day.

“We would like to have the forum, but we do not agree on the agenda,” said spokesperson Raharinaivo Andrianantoandro.

“First there should be talks on how to end the crisis. We are challenging the legality of the HAT [Transitional High Authority] and the ultimate goal of the forum,” he added.

Rajoelina on Tuesday unveiled a transitional authority and named 41 of 44 members of the new administration to rule for two years but which Ravalomanana supporters oppose.

Several thousand supporters turned out to greet Rajoelina Wednesday as he visited towns in the centre and south-western parts of the island. - AFP

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