Friday, February 13, 2009

Madagascar News Update: Thousands Continue to Demonstrate For and Against the Government

Madagascar crowds brave cyclone

Up to 40,000 people have braved a cyclone to gather in Madagascar's capital to show support for President Marc Ravalomanana.

The stadium rally called by the president in Antananarivo was his first such attempt to counter weeks of almost daily opposition demonstrations.

It came a day after a protest organised by his bitter rival, former mayor Andry Rajoelina, drew 5,000 people.

Mr Rajoelina has declared himself president and announced his cabinet.

Talks between the two sides, although not the two leaders, are scheduled, mediated by the United Nations envoy, Haile Menkerios.

The BBC's Christina Corbett in Antananarivo says tens of thousands of demonstrators braved pouring rain bought by Cyclone Gael to gather in the capital's Mamahasina sports arena on Wednesday.

Although the meeting was billed as a peace rally, she says, many of those present had come to show their support for President Ravalomanana.

As music pumped out of loud speakers, a DJ shouted to the crowd: "Who do you support?" The deafening reply was: "Ravalomanana".

Mr Rajoelina's movement had looked like it was gathering momentum once more after the deaths of 28 anti-government protesters on Saturday.

But our correspondent says that a sense of frustration is emerging over the political deadlock that the 34-year-old former mayor has bought to Madagascar.

"I'm here to support the regime. At this rate, we'll all be jobless and Rajoelina isn't going to pay me a salary, is he?," a 43-year-old driver told AFP news agency.

Despite discontent over widespread poverty in the country, our correspondent says many voters would rather wait for presidential elections due in 2011 and let democracy take its course, than be plunged into political turmoil.

Mr Rajoelina accuses Mr Ravalomanana of misspending public money and being a dictator, while the president accuses his rival of troublemaking.

At least 100 people have died since anti-government protests broke out in January.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/02/11 17:23:22 GMT

Madagascar troops open fire over looters

AFP - Friday, February 13

ANTANANARIVO (AFP) - - Madagascan troops fired their weapons over the heads of youth rioters late Thursday after rival leaders began talks on unrest that has claimed nearly 100 lives, officials said.

"Soldiers fired into the air to disperse adolescents who had come together for a looting spree," regional administrator for the south-western city of Toliara, Samueline Raheliarosoa, told AFP by telephone.

"There have been about 20 arrests," she added without being able to say whether any of the youths were hit or injured in the melee.

Several witnesses contacted by AFP confirmed the bid to ransack shops and the sound of intermittent gunfire over a period of several hours.

Roadblocks had been set up around the city centre with some stores shutting up shop following demonstrations over recent days in a city where heavy looting broke out on January 27.

At least 28 people were killed on Saturday when presidential guards opened fire on opposition demonstrators as they attempted to march to the presidential palace, in an incident that drew international condemnation.

Another 68 people were killed in protests last month, many when shops they were looting collapsed.

Although it was unclear if live ammunition was used or if anyone was hurt, Thursday's incident took the shine off the start of talks between representatives of President Marc Ravalomanana and his rival Andry Rajoelina, as revealed by an international envoy.

"The dialogue is on since yesterday. Delegations are working. The negotiations are being conducted by Church leaders who are very important here," said Alain Joyandet, France's Secretary of State for Cooperation.

Joyandet, who is part of an Indian Ocean Commission delegation to the Madagascan crisis, has already held separate talks with Ravalomanana and Rajoelina, who has accused the president of being a dictator.

"We have a feeling that each -- Ravalomanana and Rajoelina -- will work to see that this crisis ends without sparking another grave incident like the one on Saturday," Joyandet said.

"At the moment we have heard of the need to improve the social and economic situation of Madasgascans and it is important that this crisis ends," he added.

In a show of strength, Ravalomanana's party organised a rally Wednesday in the capital attended by thousands of supporters on a day Rajoelina had called for a general strike.

Addressing similar numbers, Rajoelina accused his rival of ferrying supporters by trucks and buses to the capital and paying them.

"What is earned today is spent today," said Rajoelina, who last week unveiled a rival government and installed himself as leader in a drive to oust Ravalomanana.

At the same gathering, his "prime minister" Monja Roindefonamed named four more "ministers" to their administration, joining others appointed earlier in the week.

The opposition movement led by the 34-year-old former Antananarivo mayor has been fuelled by discontent over widespread poverty and shrinking freedoms blamed on the government.

While both sides have accepted the principle of talks, Rajoelina has vowed to continue his struggle and conditioned a dialogue on the creation of a transition government or the promise of fresh presidential polls.

However, Joyandet said the foes pledged not to "take steps that will cause violence and more deaths."

He explained that Ravalomanana was willing to reconsider an arrest warrant against Rajoelina, who in turn pledged not to call on supporters to march to government offices.

In Brief: Hospitals in Madagascar receive relief supplies

Violent anti-government protests have left hospitals overstretched

JOHANNESBURG, 13 February 2009 (IRIN) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has airlifted additional staff and medical supplies to Madagascar in the event that the political violence, which has already left over 100 people dead, has not completely subsided.

"We want to be prepared in case the violence flares up again and to make sure the wounded receive proper treatment and care," said Valery Sasin, one of the ICRC surgeons who joined the Malagasy Red Cross (MRC) team in the capital, Antananarivo.

The ICRC started delivering consignments of medical supplies to the MRC and Antananarivo's main hospital last week for onward delivery to referral hospitals and health-care centres according to need.

MADAGASCAR: What went wrong?

ANTANANARIVO, 11 February 2009 (IRIN) - As emotions continue to run high in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo, many people are asking who is to blame for the political turmoil in which over 100 people have died in anti-government protests organised by opposition leader and former mayor of the capital, Andry Rajoelina.

What was once a peaceful democracy movement has become part of a political struggle which reached a new low when security forces shot dead 28 people outside the presidential offices on 7 February.

"We want change," Henri, a teacher told IRIN at an anti-government demonstration in Antananarivo. "I am here because I believe the government has made mistakes. But change should be democratic - Rajoelina should find another way to show his opinion."

The 7 February tragedy have left many questioning the motives behind leading a crowd of protesters to march on a presidential building guarded by armed soldiers. "There was only ever going to be two outcomes," said Solofo, an eyewitness of the day's events. "Bloodshed or storming the palace."

"There was a time when I supported the democracy movement," Solo, a basketball coach, told IRIN. "But now it has become too extreme."

Promises broken

Since his election as mayor of Antananarivo in December 2007, Rajoelina has set himself up as a vocal opponent of President Marc Ravalomanana, attracting the support of many who had become disillusioned with a government that they feel has failed to address the needs of Madagascar's poorest.

Analysts said Rajoelina's election in itself was a signal to the president that he was becoming increasingly distant from the people who once voted him into power. While a tiny elite in Madagascar has benefited from his liberalisation of the economy, the conditions of the poor have worsened, despite macro-economic growth.

Ravalomanana's economic reforms have attracted foreign investors - after years of economic stagnation and isolation - tempted by the country's oil and mineral wealth. Mining giants such as Rio Tinto have invested billions of dollars in local projects. Canada's Sherritt International Corporation, a natural resource company, is investing $3.4 billion in developing one of the world's biggest nickel mines just east of Antananarivo.

"The economy has shown positive results since 2004. There has been huge increase in foreign investment, especially in the mining sector, and the economy has been showing signs of recovery," Herinjatovo Ramiarison, economics professor at the University of Antananarivo, told IRIN.

"But the negative side of this free market is that it has increased the gap between rich and poor, and I think that is the main cause behind this crisis. Everywhere inequality is a source of political and social frustration and trouble, and it is very easy for people to be led to strike and protest," he commented.

"The government succeeded in implementing economic policy, but failed to implement social policies to counteract the inequality between the poor and rich."

Looking out for number one

The president himself has benefited enormously from Madagascar's economic growth. His success as an entrepreneur in dairy products helped him win the respect of his supporters during his campaign for the presidency in 2001, but people have reportedly become suspicious of overlapping public and private interests, and it has taken little to provoke people to take to the streets of Antananarivo in protest.

Many people also believe there are other, more powerful forces at work behind the opposition leaders. "The violence that we are seeing has the hallmarks of past struggles here," a political analyst and resident of Antananarivo, told IRIN.

"There are political people from the past here – what we call dinosaurs – and maybe some of them are involved in some way. It is difficult to say, but there is a lot of money involved in this anti-government movement, and it is not clear where that money is coming from."

The damage caused when the protests escalated into violence could be long-term. In just a few shorts weeks the work of many years to re-position Madagascar as a safe investment has been set back - by some estimates it could take between six and ten years for the economy to fully recover.

Coming to terms

While Rajoelina's attempt to wrest power from a democratically elected government has been condemned by African Union, Western diplomats, under the auspices of the United Nations, are pushing for dialogue and a focus on addressing the grievances expressed in the demonstrations.

"We call on the authorities, political parties and civil society to find a solution to this crisis through dialogue, with respect of the constitution, and to follow the reforms necessary to respond to calls for more social justice and democracy, and for the good management of public affairs," said a statement released by the European Union on 6 February.

Others have more immediate concerns: "It is easy to forget that it is still the cyclone season here. This is the most difficult time of year for people, and now, in addition to a global economic crisis that is expected to affect Africa severely in 2009, we have a political crisis here in Madagascar," said Ramiarison. "I am worried that we won't be able to avoid a food crisis if they don't find a solution to this situation soon."

It will be hard for Ravalomanana to recover from the bloody events of what the local media have called "Red Saturday", but there is little political alternative to the 59-year-old tycoon. At the age of 34, Rajoelina is viewed by many as too young to be president.

"I am not pro-Ravalomanana," said Solofo, "but he was elected president and we have to let him finish his mandate. The current protests are a warning, but he can change, and if not, he is out in the next elections."

Report can be found online at:
This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the Pan-African News Wire.

In Brief: Financial speculators and the food crisis

Food prices over the past few years pushed millions of vulnerable people into high-risk food insecurity

DUBAI, 8 February 2009 (IRIN) - A food security expert has said that the involvement of financial markets in basic food commodities was the biggest factor in the worldwide food price hikes over the past couple of years.

Peter Timmer, a visiting professor at Stanford University, said in a video interview posted on the UN World Food Programme website on 6 February that financial speculation in important food staples created a ‘bubble’ that disconnected market prices from underlying supply and demand fundamentals and produced severe volatility.

He warned that prices might rise again. “If we see another shortage or drought for wheat or a virus in rice, or if we see a commodity shortage start to develop, I think we’ll see renewed interest [from financial speculators] and then we’d see the spiking again,” Timmer said.

MADAGASCAR: Rajoelina down but not out

Andre Rajoelina is now the former mayor of Antananarivo

ANTANANARIVO, 4 February 2009 (IRIN) - Anti-government protesters gathered on 4 February in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, in support of the former mayor of the city, Andry Rajeolina, following his dismissal in the aftermath of demonstrations in which 68 people have been killed.

The government replaced Rajoelina on 3 February with an interim official, but Rajoelina has contested this move. At a press conference he told reporters, "Antananarivo will not support this decision. There is no valid reason to sack me."

Hundreds of his supporters blocked roads in the Malagasy capital on 4 February before moving on to the city hall where Rajoelina announced his own choice of mayor.

The demonstrations remained calm, but Rajoelina had earlier warned that people, including foreigners, should stay off the streets of Antananarivo.

President stands firm

Addressing the crowd, Rajoelina reiterated his plans to move forward with installing a transitional government on 7 February if President Marc Ravalomanana refuses to step down. The former mayor plans to lead the transitional government in the run-up to presidential elections scheduled to take place in 2011.

Rajoelina has accused the government of failing Madagascar's poor and has branded the president a dictator, but his attempts to petition the High Constitutional Court to remove the president from his post have proved unsuccessful so far.

According to a statement released by the court, it can only confirm that the president has been removed from his post when both the senate and parliament have started the impeachment process, and when the High Court of Justice has announced the president's removal. "The competence of the Constitutional Court is limited to confirming the vacancy of the president of the republic," said the statement.

As the bitter struggle for power between Rajoelina and Ravalomanana deepens, Antananarivo's residents are left facing the possibility of months of unrest.

"Nothing is over yet. Rajoelina's impatience may have restored the president's fragile popularity for now, but the people of Madagascar still have issues with the government," one observer told IRIN. "The people have become opportunists and will use any circumstances to protest against the regime."

The government has appointed Guy Rivo Randrianarisoa to carry on with the administration and management of the Antananarivo municipality. He is a former secretary general of the municipality, and was a special advisor to Rajoelina when the young mayor took power in 2007.

Report can be found online at:
This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the Pan-African News Wire.

MADAGASCAR: A rising political star falls to earth

ANTANANARIVO, 3 February 2009 (IRIN) - On 12 December 2007, a young, good-looking and charismatic former disc-jockey stormed onto Madagascar's political scene. Andry Rajoelina was voted in as the mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, beating the presidential candidate and taking 63 percent of the vote.

On 3 February 2008 news reports said he had been fired after weeks of political turmoil, in which over 80 people died in a power struggle with President Marc Ravalomanana. Rajoelina contested the government's move, and called for another demonstration on 5 February.

Rajoelina was a superstar: a symbol of youthfulness and success, popular with female voters. His election campaign reached out to a swath of Malagasy society left disillusioned with a government they had lost trust in, analysts say. In particular, he called for young people to speak out and 'reclaim' their political voice.

As a successful entrepreneur at the helm of Injet, an advertising company, Rajoelina's appeal was instant. Just as that of Ravalomanana - a self-made millionaire - had been when he came to power after elections in 2001.

At the head of the TGV (Tanora Malagasy Vonona – Young Malagasy's Determined) movement, Rajoelina earned himself the nickname, TGV – as much a reference to his movement as to the French high-speed train.

From the beginning, Rajoelina positioned himself as one of the government's most vociferous critics, tapping into a vein of anti-government sentiment.

Rajoelina has accused the government of mis-spending public funds and clamping down on press freedoms. He has also denounced controversial plans to lease agricultural land to South Korean company Daewoo.


In December 2008, the authorities closed VIVA Television, the mayor's television station, after it aired an address by former President Didier Ratsiraka. That move marked the beginning of a rapid decline in an already strained relationship with the president, which reached boiling point when anti-government protests led by the mayor deteriorated into violence in late January.

Rajoelina had demanded Ravalomanana's resignation, and announced on 31 January that he was in control of Madagascar's affairs - a move condemned by the African Union.

Despite his popularity in Antananarivo, Rajoelina has less support elsewhere in the country. "The problem is, people in the provinces didn't know this man until now," one of the mayor's supporters told IRIN at a demonstration in Antananarivo. "Now he must go and explain to people what he is doing."

Many people on the streets of Antananarivo have been left confused by recent events. For many, Rajoelina represented the first attractive alternative to a president who had himself harnessed the power of popular public support to propel himself to the presidency. Recent violence and strikes, however, have left some doubtful.

"This is not what the people want," said a shop assistant in the city. "We cannot afford not to work and we are afraid of the violence."

Rajoelina had called for a general strike, but on 2 February businesses and government offices in the capital remained open.

Report can be found online at:

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