Monday, March 16, 2009

Madagascar News Bulletin: Presidential Palace Seized by Military; AU Condemns Opposition, Army Actions as "Attempted Coup"

Monday, March 16, 2009
21:14 Mecca time, 18:14 GMT

Madagascar president's HQ seized

Armoured vehicles smashed down the gates of the presidential compound in Antananarivo

Madagascan troops have entered the presidential palace compound in the capital Antananarivo, witnesses say.

Marc Ravalomanana, the president, was not in the building, which is largely used for ceremonial purposes, when soldiers smashed down the gates with armoured vehicles on Monday.

"Surrender, surrender, if you are there surrender, because we are brothers," a soldier shouted into a megaphone as they forced their way in.

Troops were also reportedly heading to another palace about 6km from the city centre where Ravalomanana was believed to be sheltering.

Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa, speaking from Antananarivo, said that the army had declared that it would take the second presidential palace during the evening.

"The people protecting the president and the few soldiers protecting the president have mined the area to make sure people can't get any closer," she said.

"They are expecting some kind of standoff, the question is when will it happen. It doesn't seem, at the moment that [Ravalomanana] will go back on his word not to leave the presidential palace."

Crippling crisis

Monday's events came amid a worsening political standoff between Ravalomanana and the country's principal opposition leader that has crippled the island nation since the beginning of the year.

Just hours prior to the forcible takeover of the presidential compound, Andry Rajoelina, the opposition leader, called on the security forces to arrest Ravalomanana, who he accuses of being a dictator and misusing public funds.

Rajoelina has already declared himself the Indian Ocean island's de facto leader, tapping into widespread public discontent, especially among Madagascar's poor.

"We have been told that he [Rajoelina] is actually preparing to go into the presidential palace on Tuesday morning to take office and to tell people that he is in charge," Mutasa said.

Ravalomanana had offered to hold a referendum to end the crisis, but Rajoelina said in a radio address that there was no need for a poll as the people had already made their opinions clear.

The head of Madagascar's armed forces said on Monday they were 99 per cent behind Rajoelina.

"We are there for the Malagasy people. If Andry Rajoelina can resolve the problem, we are behind him," Colonel Andre Ndriarijaona, who led a mutiny last week and replaced the previous army chief of staff, said.

"I would say 99 per cent of the forces are behind him."

'Attempted coup'

The African Union has called the situation in Madagascar an attempted coup and urged the people to respect the constitution.

"The situation in Madagascar is an internal conflict," Edouard Alo-Glele, Benin's envoy to Ethiopia, said after an emergency meeting of the AU's Peace and Security Council.

"It is an attempted coup d'etat. We condemn the attempted coup d'etat."

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

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Madagascan army takes over one presidential palace
2009-03-17 00:48:56

ANTANANARIVO March 16 (Xinhua) -- The Madagascan armed forces took over the presidential palace in the center of the capital Antananarivo on Monday evening.

The armed troops, which support the opposition against President Marc Ravalomanana, launched a rocket to the palace but hit the central Bank nearby.

The palace is one of presidential palaces in the capital city with another 15 km away from the city center. Ravalomanana were reportedly not at his office.

Gunfire was heard in Antananarivo when troops entered the presidential palace, according to agencies' reports.

The shooting followed an order by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina to arrest Ravalomanana.

"I order the Ministry of Justice to issue an arrest warrant against Ravalomanana for his high treason to the people by bringing in foreign commandos to Madagascar," Rajoelina told a gathering early in the day.

The young opposition leader also declared that Ravalomanana was no longer president of the Indian Ocean island country. "I am the president", he claimed, promulgating "we are already at the door of victory".

Declaring that only formalities remained to recognize him as president of the country, Rajoelina told some 20,000 of his supporters that he had already got supports from all administrative machinery including the prime minister, whose office was taken over by his transitional government prime minister, Monja Roindefo, on Saturday.

Jacques Sylla, president of the lower house of Madagascan parliament, also expressed support to the opposition.

Rajoelina rejected Ravalomanana's proposal of holding a national referendum to decide the fate of the two political rivals in the current political crisis, which began last December.

Editor: Mu Xuequan

Madagascar army declares support for opposition leader

Monday, March 16, 2009
11:58 AM ET
CBC News

Madagascar's political crisis deepened Monday as the new army chief declared support for the country's opposition leader, who has called for the arrest of the president.

Col. Andre Ndriarijaona, who led a mutiny within the armed forces last week and replaced the previous army chief of staff, declared the force's support for opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, said Reuters.

Rajoelina declared himself president of a transitional government over the weekend, but President Marc Ravalomanana has said he will not surrender power in the Indian Ocean island without first holding a referendum.

Christine Razanamahasoa, an aide who the opposition leader says is his justice minister in the parallel government, said Monday she was ordering prosecutors to arrest the president.

Rajoelina later told supporters at a rally: "I call on the army and the police … to execute the minister of justice's order, because Andry Rajoelina is in a hurry to get to his office."

The opposition leader, who was fired as mayor of Antananarivo last month, accuses Ravalomanana of running the country as an autocracy by misspending funds and undermining democracy.

Presidential loyalists say Rajoelina is a troublemaker who wants to illegally seize power.

Supporters of both sides have held street protests in the capital Antananarivo during recent days.

Early Monday, small explosions were heard near the presidential palace where Ravalomanana is hunkered down. Reports from the scene said grenades were tossed from passing vehicles to frighten supporters of the president, who have vowed to stay at the palace to protect him.

Madagascar's ambassador to the African Union, which is discussing the crisis at an emergency meeting in Ethiopia, said the president's proposed referendum would be held within three months.

Voters would be asked whether they support the president and, if they do not, elections will be held, said Jean Pierre Rakotoarivony.

Tensions have been rising on the impoverished Indian Ocean island since Rajoelina began street protests late last year.

In late January, after the government blocked an opposition radio station's signal, Rajoelina supporters set fire to a building in the government broadcasting complex as well as an oil depot, a shopping mall and a private TV station linked to Ravalomanana. Scores of people were killed.

Days later, soldiers opened fire on anti-government protesters, killing at least 25. The incident cost Ravalomanana much of the support of the military, which blamed him for the order to fire at demonstrators.

Last week, the president's army chief of staff yielded power to the leader of a group of mutinous soldiers who have said they will no longer accept orders from the government. The new chief of staff had insisted he was neutral until Monday.

Madagascar Urges African Union to Support President

By Jason McLure and Olivier Ramaro

March 16 (Bloomberg) -- Madagascar urged the African Union to support President Marc Ravalomanana’s plans to hold a referendum on his leadership, as Agence France-Presse reported that the army surrounded his office in Antananarivo, the capital.

Ravalomanana, 59, enjoys the support of most of the army and faces opposition from “only a very small fraction” of the Indian Ocean island’s military, Jean Pierre Rakotoarivony, the Malagasy representative to the AU, told reporters today in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Rakotoarivony spoke after a meeting of the AU’s Peace and Security Council to discuss the crisis in his homeland.

Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, the former mayor of Antananarivo, the capital, has claimed control of the military and has urged the security forces to detain Ravalomanana “without delay,” AFP reported.

At least 100 people have died since Jan. 26 amid clashes between the security forces and opposition supporters in Madagascar, the fourth-largest island in the world. Rajoelina, 34, has accused Ravalomanana of ruling the country, the world’s biggest vanilla producer, as a corrupt dictator.

Ravalomanana, who was elected to a second term in 2006, said yesterday he’s ready to face a referendum to test popular support for his rule, AFP said. Rajoelina has rejected the proposal.

‘Digs In’

“As the president digs his heels in further, refusing to exit the political stage, the opposition’s calls for him to leave are intensifying,” Kissy Agyeman, Africa analyst at IHS Global Insight, said today in an e-mailed note to clients. “With the army now split into two camps, the threat of armed conflict cannot be ruled out.”

Rio Tinto Group, the world’s third-largest mining company, said its $1 billion ilmenite mine in Madagascar was unaffected by the unrest. Titanium dioxide is extracted from ilmenite and used as a pigment. Rio said in November that output at the mine would be about 9 percent of global supply.

“The instability has penetrated Madagascar’s economy, as the country’s tourism sector -- the mainstay of its economy -- has been adversely affected in the past two months,” Agyeman of Global Insight said.

Per capita income has declined to $290 in 2005 from $473 in 1970, making Madagascar one of the poorest countries in the world, according to the World Bank.

Edouard Aho-Glele, Benin’s permanent representative to the AU and rotating chairman of the Peace and Security Council, said no position was taken by the AU body on Ravalomanana’s call for a referendum.


“So far as we understand, the president is still in power, so it is not a coup d’etat,” Aho-Glele said. “Anything the country should do should be consistent with the constitution of Madagascar. The council calls on the parties to renew dialogue among themselves.”

Rio said in November its unit in the country, QIT Madagascar Minerals, would begin output in January and would increase production to 750,000 metric tons a year in 2011. The mine is in the southern Fort-Dauphin region.

“We have worked normally since January, when the political tensions began,” Nick Cobban, a London-based company spokesman, said today by e-mail. Rio’s office in Antananarivo was “working today and has only been closed for a couple of days as a precaution since the tensions began.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Olivier Ramaro in Antananarivo via Johannesburg at; Jason McLure in Addis Ababa via Johannesburg at March 16, 2009 12:06 EDT

AU condemns "coup d'etat" attempt in Madagascar

March 17, 2009, 1:00 am

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The African Union said on Monday that a push by the opposition in Madagascar to remove the president was an attempted coup d'etat and called on the people of the Indian Ocean island to respect their constitution.

"The situation in Madagascar is an internal conflict. It is an attempted coup d'etat. We condemn the attempted coup d'etat," Edouard Alo-Glele, Benin's envoy to Ethiopia, told reporters after a meeting of the AU's Peace and Security Council.

"We ask the people of Madagascar to do everything consistent with their constitution," he said after the emergency meeting.

(Reporting by Tsegaye Tadesse, Editing by David Clarke)

Madagascar views on power struggle

BBC News website readers in Madagascar have been sending us their reaction to the ongoing civil unrest.

Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina has asked security forces to arrest President Marc Ravalomanana, after snubbing his referendum proposal.

The power struggle between the two leaders has triggered a military mutiny, deadly protests and looting which have left at least 100 people dead in the Indian Ocean island since January.

Read some of the comments we have received:

The country is going backward, in terms of democracy and development. The majority of the population is silent, and in terror in front of the protest organized by Rajoelina, and its supporters, including the army, who are using violence and terror to get power. The SADC and the African Union should send an army to protect the civilians. It is inadmissible that a "coup d'Etat" still exists in Madagascar in 2009, 50 years after colonization and a military regime under Ratsiraka. An election is the only solution to this crisis.
Hanitra, Antananarivo

I am 35 and have experienced the struggles for power in 1991, 2002 and again in 2009. What I can say is that, except from 2002 where there were presidential elections, they all have been motivated by a too strong greed on the part of politicians. Once they are in power they forget that they have to work for the country and are only interested in enriching themselves in a short amount of time because they know they won't stay long in power.

Madagascar has always been under the influence of France even since its independence, President Ravalomanana has opened the country to other influences, is it another reason to destitute him?

We, Malagasy people, do not want the civil war the movement of Andry Rajoelina is leading us to. We only want our democratically elected President to finish his mandate.
Randrianarivony, Antananarivo

We are close to a civil war. I can assure you that even Andry Rajoelina will become president, do you think that the other who support Mr Ravalomanana will accept that? The only issue is to leave the actual president at his place. Arrange an election for next year. The military must stop this insurrection. Hope my lovely country will recover!
Andry Rajoelina says a referendum is unnecessary

Ravalomanana has been working hard to develop the country. His programme and projects have worked very well and rural areas were very beneficial. Infrastructure improved. Corruption has become less compared with the what happened to the former president. Roads which were subject to political propaganda are finished and the population can travel. But why the opposition is trying so hard to overthrow Ravalomanana? First because Ravalomanana shift from Francophonie to other areas including Asia and other European areas. Second, he is not corrupt and tried to set up terms and conditions in running most of the business which is very different from what happened during Ratsiraka's presidency, in which corruptions reigned. Third, oil has been discovered in Madagascar and not run by French but Canadian and American companies.
Rivo, Antananarivo, Madagscar

Madagascar has an opportunity here to show its political maturity. Let the opposition campaign for the next election and let the voters decide. Anything else puts Madagascar in the same league as some of the worst African failed states. Having been here over six years it is tragic to see all those years of development being unravelled by power hungry individuals ready to destroy the country just to get themselves into power. If they really respect democracy and have the best interests of the Malagasy people at heart then wait for the elections, two years is not long.
Kennedy, Antananarivo

I may not come from Madagascar, but the people back there are looking trouble that will never end sooner. Hope AU take immediate step, cause the dividend to reap will be costly. Ask West Africa, Liberia where I am from!
McDonnell, Liberia

Why is the African Union always behaving like a toothless dog? Are they waiting until there is another army takeover before they commence condemnation? This is the time for the entire international community to intervene in bringing this crisis to an end. If an elected government is threatened in such away, and subsequently allowed to be removed, that will be a bad signal. Let the opposition wait for election or take advantage of the referendum.
James, New Jersey, USA

After a century of colonial repression Madagascar gets a semblance of democracy and the potential to begin to conceive of itself as a whole and its people as united, and it all goes up in smoke because the pull of greed, power, and vengeance is just too great. I'm afraid Mr Ravalomanana is also not without guilt in squandering a rare opportunity of strong majority support by not separating himself from his business conflicts of interest.
b. reinhart, boston, USA

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