Fourth day of protests peaceful

Thousands of protestors gathered in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo, for the fourth consecutive day on Thursday to demand that the High Constitutional Court declare Marc Ravalomanana the winner of presidential elections held on 16 December.

Opposition parties and local election monitors insist that Antananarivo mayor Ravalomanana won between 50 and 52 percent of the vote and that President Didier Ratsiraka scored about 35 percent. However, unofficial government results show that neither Ravalomanana nor Ratsiraka won an outright majority.

According to the interior ministry, Ravalomanana won 46.59 percent of the vote, while Ratsiraka won 40.59 percent. The constitution requires a second round of voting in the event of one candidate not winning an outright majority.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative Adamo Guindo told IRIN on Monday that violence had only marred the first day of protests, after which the government withdrew its security forces. "There were demonstrations today and it was peaceful," he said, adding that "the Secretary-General [Kofi Annan] is monitoring the situation".

Ravalomanana has had his supporters out in their hundreds of thousands since Monday, in an attempt to pressure the court, saying that the protests will not end until 28 January, when the court is scheduled to announce the official results.

According to Guindo, opposition parties said they remained suspicious of the nine-member court's impartiality because three of its members were selected by the country's president, three by the president of the senate and three by the president of the assembly.

A Reuters report quoted senate president Honore Rakotomanana as saying that Ratsiraka's team was prepared to consider a thorough comparison of results gathered at local polling stations with the final count in Antananarivo. Both sides have complained of foul play in the elections on the island of 15 million people off southeast Africa, according to the report.

It said a second round would be held 30 days after the high court announces the result of the first round. If the court agrees to re-examine local counts, there could be a considerable delay.