Ravalomanana-appointed premier arrested in Madagascar

The prime minister appointed by Madagascar’s ousted president, Marc Ravalomanana, has been arrested by soldiers loyal to the island’s new leader.

The arrest marked a new escalation between Andry Rajoelina’s new army-backed regime and Ravalomanana loyalists, even as foreign diplomats and the African Union held consultations in Addis Ababa on the crisis.

A group of around 20 soldiers, all armed and some hooded, stormed the Carlton hotel in central Antananarivo where Manandafy Rakotonirina had set up his base to challenge the authority of Andry Rajoelina.

“We are here to arrest Manandafy,” one of the military officers in charge of the operation told reporters on the scene.

Former Madagascan opposition leader Rajoelina ousted the Indian Ocean island’s elected president Ravalomanana with army backing on March 17.

Ravalomanana has recently upped his counter-offensive from exile, claiming to still be the island’s only legitimate leader despite resigning and forming a parallel government to challenge Rajoelina’s administration.

On Tuesday, the rival prime minister he appointed, Manandafy Rakotonirina, unveiled a partial government line-up including all the key portfolios which he said would be tasked with governing the country.

The commando led by officers known for their part in the military deployment that forced Ravalomanana out of power last month searched the hotel for an hour before eventually finding Rakotonirina hiding in a toilet.

Hotel staff told AFP that the soldiers produced a warrant and a spokesperson at Rajoelina’s office confirmed that one had indeed been issued.

“There has been an arrest warrant against Manandafy for a week. He is the mastermind of last week’s violence ... This is also an operation launched in response to a threat on state security,” Annick Rajaona said.

Deadly regime
After initially allowing Ravalomanana loyalists to vent their disappointment, Rajoelina’s regime has begun to tighten the screw, banning rallies and unleashing security forces on transgressors.

Two civilians were killed on Friday when security forces cracked down on protesters defying the ban, bringing to four the number of dead in anti-Rajoelina demonstrations last week.

Rajoelina’s High Transition Authority has blamed Ravalomanana loyalists for the violence and on Monday raided the offices of Madagascar’s Constitutional Court in an operation aimed at rounding up remnants of the armed forces still loyal to Ravalomanana.

Diplomats speaking condition of anonymity told AFP on Wednesday that a high-level delegation from Rajoelina’s transitional regime arrived in Addis Ababa two days earlier for consultations.

A source close to the AU, which is headquartered in the Ethiopian capital, said the delegation had meetings with “various representations such as Uganda’s and probably with AU officials, as would be customary in such circumstances.”

“The idea is to maintain channels open and ensure that both sides talk to each other,” the official said.

Another official said Ravalomanana was expected in Addis Ababa on Thursday to attend a meeting of the international contact group on the crisis.

Rajoelina’s takeover was described as coup by neighbouring nations and the international community, which has so far refused to recognise the transitional administration and called for the return of constitutional order.—Sapa-AFP

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