/ 11 September 2009

Madagascar security forces tear gas protesters

Security forces in Madagascar fired tear gas on Friday to try to disperse hundreds of opposition supporters gathering for a rally in the capital of the Indian Ocean island.

Backers of ousted President Marc Ravalomanana massed in a park near a central square, but security forces moved in saying the demonstration had not been authorised.

Andry Rajoelina, former mayor of the capital Antananarivo, spearheaded weeks of violent street protests before toppling Ravalomanana in a March coup with the help of dissident soldiers.

Raharinaivo Andrianantoandro, spokesperson for Ravalomanana’s party, said they had wanted to demonstrate peacefully to condemn Rajoelina’s appointment of a new government this week and to convince the ruling authorities to resume crisis talks.

”But the security forces stopped us,” he told Reuters, adding that he was not aware of any arrests or injuries.

Ostracised by most of the international community, Rajoelina joined crisis talks last month with Ravalomanana and two other former presidents in Maputo, Mozambique.

The island’s four political heavyweights signed a deal there laying out the structure of a power-sharing government, but they failed to agree on who should fill the top posts.

Rajoelina unilaterally formed a government this week to steer the world’s fourth largest island to presidential polls, but it has been rejected by the opposition, Southern African leaders and the African Union.

Analysts say turmoil is likely to rock the island for months to come, stunting investment, prolonging an aid freeze and driving economic growth into negative territory.

Under Ravalomanana, who was accused of abuse of office for private gain, Madagascar enjoyed sustained economic growth as the country opened its doors to foreign investors hoping to exploit its oil, nickel, cobalt, gold, uranium and coal.

Analysts say key factors determining how long the turmoil persists will be whether Rajoelina offers sweeteners to the opposition, or whether divergent opposition groups mount a united front and launch a sustained campaign of street protests.

The opposition called last week on the army to head a unity government to ensure a smooth transition, but the security forces refused, saying they no role to play in politics.

”The army should no longer be intervening because its says it is neutral,” said protester Irene Andrianina. ”Where is this neutrality now?” — Reuters