Monday, March 16, 2009

Madagascar President Ravalomanana Vows to Fight On

Tuesday, March 17, 2009
03:33 Mecca time, 00:33 GMT

Madagascan president vows to fight

Troops with armoured vehicles occupied a presidential compound in Antananarivo on Monday

Madagascar's president, under mounting pressure from troops who have occupied one of his palaces, has vowed to fight to the death.

Marc Ravalomanana's spokesman, Andry Ralijaona, said the president had no intention of fleeing.

"The president plans to stay in Madagascar. He said this to the presidential guard, who told him he should be placed elsewhere, and he replied 'I will die with you if I have to'. That's his stand," Ralijaona said.

He accused the army of staging a coup and added that the president had sought military support from the UN and southern African countries.

Soldiers back by armoured vehicles had on Monday seized one of the president's palaces along with the central bank, after throwing their support behind Andry Rajoelina, the opposition leader locked in a power struggle with Ravalomanana.

Palace mined

Ravalomanana is holed up in another presidential palace, known as Iavoloha, a few kilometres from the city centre of the capital, Antananarivo.

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

The president's guards had mined the area to keep the soldiers at bay and were expecting some kind of standoff, our correspondent said.

And it appeared that Ravalomanana was planning to remain at the palace, she added, while there were reports that Rajoelina was preparing to go into the seized presidential palace on Tuesday to take office and declare himself in charge.

The president's supporters call Rajoelina a troublemaker bent on seizing power illegally, but under growing pressure to resign, Ravalomanana offered on Monday to hold a referendum to let the people decide who should run the country.

Rajoelina, who accuses the president of being a dictator and misusing public funds, rejected the move, saying there was no need for a poll as the people had already made their opinions clear.

Rajoelina, a 34-year-old former disc jockey who was sacked by Ravalomanana's government as Antananarivo's mayor last month, then called on the security forces to arrest the president.

He denied ordering Monday's attack, however, saying: "It wasn't me who gave the order [to take the palace]."

But he also said: "Do we intend to seize Iavoloha? Many things will take place in the next 48 hours," adding that "right now Ravalomanana has no power".

Army backing

Madagascar's army has traditionally remained neutral during political volatility, but on Monday, Colonel Andre Ndriarijaona, the head of the armed forces, said the military was 99 per cent behind Rajoelina.

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

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

But our correspondent said that while Rajoelina enjoyed strong support in the capital because he was formerly mayor there, it remained unclear if he could muster the backing of people and troops in the rest of the country.

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."

At least 135 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.

The crisis, with Rajoelina leading anti-government demonstrations since the start of the year, has also sent the country's nearly $400m-a-year tourism sector spiralling.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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