Monday, March 16, 2009

Madagascar Leader Offers Referendum

Madagascar leader offers referendum

Opposition leader Rajoelina claims that the army is now taking orders from him

Marc Ravalomanana, Madagascar's president, has offered to hold a referendum to resolve the standoff between his government and opposition protesters.

Ravalomanana made the offer in a speech to about 5,000 of his supporters outside the presidential palace on Sunday.

"We must follow democratic principles. If we have to, we will organise a referendum. We are not afraid to do so," he said in the speech, relayed live by the local Radio Mada.

Soon afterwards, Andry Rajoelina, Madagascar's opposition leader who has accused Ravalomanana of ruling as a dictator, reiterated his call for the president to step down.

More than 130 people have been killed in Madagascar's political crisis, most of them when security forces cracked down on anti-government protests at the order of Ravalomanana's government.

The security forces' relationship with the government has deteriorated as a result and a faction of the army has revolted, refusing to act against the opposition.

Opposition claim

Rajoelina has several times said that he controls the army.

"Of course it is me who is giving the army orders. I am in permanent contact with them," Rajoelina was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying on Sunday.

Despite his assertion, there has been no confirmation from the army that Rajoelina is giving orders.

Madagascar's army has remained traditionally neutral during various periods of political volatility since independence from France in 1960.

On Saturday, Rajoelina declared the president had just four hours to step down, but Ravalomanana defied the ultimatum and his supporters guarded the presidential palace through the night.

"For now we are waiting for him to resign," Rajoelina said in his interview with Reuters.

"If he doesn't, then we have other options ... I can't say if that means a military intervention."

He said he expected important developments within the next day or two.

"We will let him leave quietly. I think the situation will evolve within the next 48 hours," he said.

While Rajoelina has tapped into widespread public discontent, especially with high levels of poverty in Madagascar, many inhabitants are fed up with the disruption this year's protests and unrest have brought to their lives and the local economy.

Source: Agencies

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