Sunday, March 08, 2009

Madagascar News Bulletin: Military Stages Mutiny Against Central Government

Mutiny in Madagascar military base: soldiers

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AFP) - - Soldiers at a large military base on the outskirts of the Madagascan capital mutinied Sunday in protest at the government's repression of a three-month-old opposition movement.

Access roads to the camp in Soanierana district, around six kilometres (four miles) from the centre of Antananarivo, were blocked by mutineering soldiers.

"We no longer take orders from our hierarchy, we are following our hearts. We were trained to protect property and citizens, not to fire at people. We are with the people," said one of them, on condition of anonymity.

Security forces had foiled several opposition rallies in Antananarivo and other towns since Wednesday, leading to clashes that left at least four people dead.

An AFP reporter was able to access one wing of the military compound, where soldiers who refused to be quoted confirmed that the base was rebelling in protest at the regime's repression of opposition demonstrations.

"The army chief of staff came this morning in an attempt to sweet-talk us but he quickly had to get back in his car and leave," said one of them.

Several witnesses observed soldiers deploying around the base, apparently bracing for retaliation by the presidential guard, but no shots are reported to have been fired since the mutiny started on Sunday.

The mutiny appeared to be confined to this camp as no movement was reported in any other of the army's bases around the capital and elsewhere on the island.

Madagascar has a long history of political instability but until now, the Indian Ocean island's military has been reputed for its loyalist tradition.

No official comment was immediately available but the renewed tension comes after opposition leader Andry Rajoelina was forced into hiding following a botched arrest attempt at his residence.

On Saturday, Rajoelina, who late last year mounted a fierce challenge against the regime of President Marc Ravalomanana, told AFP that he could no longer risk appearing in public.

"I am now hiding in a safe location where I cannot be attacked... Until the dust settles, I can no longer physically appear in front of my supporters," said Rajoelina, who had been leading almost daily protests in central Antananarivo.

The 34-year-old opposition leader did not specify whether he was still in the capital or even in the country.

According to several officials and witnesses, security forces on Saturday also stormed the offices of Rajoelina's Viva television network and confiscated equipment.

The opposition leader describes Ravalomanana as a dictator starving his people and late last year mounted a fierce political challenge against the president, who has been in power since 2002.

Rajoelina last week walked out on direct talks with Ravalomanana, accusing his rival of playing down his camp's grievances and pledging to revert to mass street action to unseat the president.

On Saturday, he called for a broad forum representing all sectors of the population to be formed in order to reach a decision on the main sticking points that have derailed talks between the rival political camps.

The United Nations and African Union have dispatched envoys in a bid to defuse the crisis and prevent a resumption of violent clashes that before the weekend clashes, had already killed close to 100 since the start of the year.

Madagascar is one of the world's poorest countries and Rajoelina's criticism of the regime's economic and social policies has struck a chord with large portions of the population.

Sunday, March 08, 2009
18:42 Mecca time, 15:42 GMT

Madagascar troops 'stage mutiny'

Madagascar is in the midst of political unrest as the opposition calls for the president to step down

Soldiers in a large military camp in Madagascar have staged a mutiny, claiming they would no longer take orders from the government, reports say.

Access roads to a military camp in the Soanierana district outside of the capital Antananarivo were reportedly blocked by mutinous soldiers on Sunday.

"We no longer take orders from our hierarchy, we are following our hearts. We were trained to protect property and citizens, not to fire at people. We are with the people," one of them told the AFP news agency.

A government spokesperson told Al Jazeera that around 70 soldiers were involved in the mutiny and had taken some low-ranking officers hostage.

She said the mutiny was a result of an internal dispute within the army.

Political unrest

The uprising comes amid political unrest in which at least 98 people have been killed.

Andry Rajoelina, the opposition leader, has called a series of anti-government demonstrations since January 26 and demanded that Marc Ravalomanana, the president, steps down.

Rajoelina is in hiding after security forces attempted to arrest him and authorities intensified a crackdown on his movement.

"I am now hiding in a safe location where I cannot be attacked... Until the dust settles, I can no longer physically appear in front of my supporters," he told AFP without specifying whether he was still in the capital Antananarivo or even in the country.

The former mayor of Antananarivo has vowed to oust Ravalomanana, who he describes as a dictator starving his people.

The United Nations and African Union have dispatched envoys in a bid to defuse the political crisis in the east African island nation.

Source: Agencies

Madagascar officers launch mutiny

Officers in a military camp near Madagascar's capital of Antananarivo have mutinied, refusing to take any more orders from the government.

A BBC reporter in the capital says a group of officers announced they would now follow opposition leader and former city mayor Andry Rajoelina.

Antananarivo is peaceful despite the announcement, our correspondent adds.

Madagascar is in the grip of a fierce power struggle between Mr Rajoelina and President Marc Ravalomanana.

The Indian Ocean island nation has been paralysed since the start of the year by the political crisis, which has left about 100 people dead in protests.

On Sunday roads to the military camp in Soanierana district, around 6km (four miles) from the city centre, were blocked by mutinous soldiers, according to AFP news agency.

'Following our hearts'

"We no longer take orders from our hierarchy, we are following our hearts. We were trained to protect property and citizens, not to fire at people. We are with the people," an unnamed soldier told AFP.

No official comment was immediately available.

Security forces have prevented several opposition rallies from going ahead in recent days, leading to clashes in which several people died.

Mr Rajoelina said this weekend he was in hiding and his TV station is reportedly off air.

Security forces last week tried to arrest him after he walked out on direct talks with Mr Ravalomanana, accusing his rival of dismissing opposition grievances and pledging to revert to mass street action.

The opposition leader, who was sacked as the capital's mayor last month, has accused the president of being a dictator.

The 34-year-old former DJ turned politician has declared himself president and announced his own administration.

President Ravalomanana denies abusing power and says he will remain in power until the end of his mandate in 2011.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/03/08 15:33:18 GMT

MADAGASCAR: The keyboard could be mightier than the gun

ANTANANARIVO, 6 March 2009 (IRIN) - "Do people outside care what is really happening here in Madagascar?" asked 'Tahina', sitting in a café while security forces fired shots into the air to clear gangs of looters from the streets of the capital, Antananarivo.

"For us, one of the most important things that we do is to transmit information, not only to the Malagasy diaspora, but also to all people outside."

Tahina is one of Madagascar's most active bloggers and twitterers, part of a young generation of internet savvy Malagasies who have turned to cyberspace to share news and opinions on political events in the country.

Prompted by the recent political turmoil, many bloggers are overcoming huge obstacles to harness the power of the internet and social networking sites like Facebook to dispel rumours and facilitate political discussion.

"The internet is starting to become an important place to discuss the current crisis here," blogger 'Andry' told IRIN. "Before, most bloggers talked about personal, everyday things. But now many more are involved in trying to find out the facts and analyse political events, and even launch potential ideas for a [peaceful] settlement.

"But at the moment, it stays discussion," said Andry. "Finding a way to take the messages and proposals generated to our leaders and decision-makers is another problem."


Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana is engaged in a bitter power struggle with an opposition movement led by former mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina.

Daily demonstrations by the opposition have disintegrated into violence and looting, and clashes with the security forces have become commonplace. In Antananarivo, many bloggers risk their lives to witness events.

But safety is only one of many obstacles that Madagascar's bloggers face. Internet use in the country is low; few people have access to the internet at home or at work, and in the more remote towns cyber cafes are rare.

"The speed of internet connections, the cost of using the internet and even finding somewhere to get online, these are all challenges that we face," said Tahina. "But what we do is very important because the mainstream media here is very biased. We are individuals who say what we see and what we hear."

Television, radio and print media outlets in Madagascar are widely known for their partisanship. Several independent broadcasters have been closed down, including the television arm of Viva, Rajoelina's own television and radio network.

These are informative bloggers who look for the facts and try to find the truth - and we hope that society will start to recognize them
The Malagasy blogosphere is not free of extremist postings on both sides of the political divide. "Because blogging is a personal thing, blogs can often come across as very opinionated," English-language blogger 'Pakysse' told IRIN.

"You have to be very careful if you want to be objective; it is sometimes difficult to find the middle way. But it is important to use the internet because the freedom of speech it offers is a characteristic of democracy."


A variety of opinions among Madagascar's bloggers has helped create a rich arena for political discussions in three languages: Malagasy, English and French.

"Diversity keeps things interesting," said Malagasy-language blogger, 'Mamy'. "We can share and exchange more ideas - we do not let different political opinions stop us from sharing news."

Lova Rakotomalala monitors and analyses the work of Malagasy bloggers for Global Voices, an international project to promote the development of citizen media. He believes that Madagascar's current crisis has helped inspire political expression among young Malagasies, but there is some way to go before a coherent forum for political debate is found.

"The Malagasy blogosphere still has a lot of maturing to do before an effective and constructive political discourse such as Kenya's can be achieved," Rakotomalala told IRIN. In Kenya, Mzalendo – meaning 'patriot' in Swahili – is a volunteer-run blog whose mission is to "keep an eye on the Kenyan parliament".

Strengthening citizen media

Instances of 'cyber-bullying' among Malagasy bloggers are still common, "so a stronger online structure has to be established before true open discourse can happen", said Rakotomalala. A large number of Madagascar's bloggers still do not comment on political issues, and many are afraid to do so.

One project designed to help raise the strength of citizen media in Madagascar is the FOKO blog club. The project is supported by Global Voices and is dedicated to training bloggers across the country to use the internet as a tool to help promote social and political development.

Madagascar's current political crisis shows little sign of reaching a resolution. Talks between the two parties are continuing, but without the men at the centre of the dispute, president Ravalomanana and opposition leader Rajoelina.

Speaking on 4 March, Ravalomanana said he would do all he could to restore order in Antananarivo; he said the law would be used to punish those responsible for the violence and looting, and warned that anarchy would not be tolerated.

Rajoelina's call for a general strike in the capital this week was widely ignored. Threats and intimidation against those going to work have been reported, and the UN Children's Agency, UNICEF, has condemned individuals reported to have threatened the teachers and pupils of at least two schools in the capital.

As more people use cyberspace to respond to the political crisis, the power of the internet in Madagascar is growing. "With political events here we have seen the rise of a new type of blogger," said Andry.

"These are informative bloggers who look for the facts and try to find the truth - and we hope that society will start to recognize them." They could help form the future for political discussion in Madagascar.

Report can be found online at:

This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the Pan-African News Wire.

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