Hope of reconciliation fades

Concern mounted among diplomats and NGOs in Madagascar on Wednesday as President Marc Ravalomanana moved to consolidate his power by appointing a new cabinet that contained only one official from the former government.

One NGO told IRIN that the latest move by Ravalomanana destroyed the "little chance there was for reconciliation".

The new government, headed by Jacques Sylla, is made up of 30 ministers. It will sit in the capital, Antananarivo, as former president Didier Ratsiraka maintains his own parallel government in the east coast city of Tamatave.

One diplomat in Antananarivo told IRIN: "I think that Ravalomanana's decision to go ahead with the appointments will only make an already complex situation even more difficult to resolve. It does not help the international community's effort to bring an end to the crisis."

Ratsiraka's former defence minister, Gen Marcel Ranjeva, was appointed as foreign minister in Ravalomanana's new administration.

"Ravalomanana's cabinet is a spectrum of political moderates." political analyst, Didier Ramakavelo, told IRIN on Wednesday.

Ratsiraka, meanwhile, made a key change to his own team on Monday, one that displayed a similar reluctance to move towards reconciliation: the appointment of hawkish Gen Ismael Mounibou to replace Ranjeva as "armed forces minister".

IRIN reported on Monday that the call for renewed talks were increasingly becoming unpopular in Antananarivo, where Ravalomanana commands most of his support. There was a growing sentiment that Madagascar "should be left alone to solve it's own problems".

Meanwhile, the island on Wednesday continued to be battered by cyclone weather. Over the weekend at least 14 people were killed from flooding during a fierce tropical storm that battered the east coast.

On Wednesday there was still no electricity or running water in Tamatave. A number of wooden homes and shops were swept away in the downpour.

"Getting aid to the port city is a problem since it has been cut off from the capital," the UN Development Programme in Antananarivo (UNDP) told IRIN. UNDP visited the region on Wednesday to assess the impact of the bad weather.

The storm was a further blow to the economy of Tamatave, the island nation's third largest town, already hurt by a 4-month-long dispute over the presidency.

Ratsiraka supporters allegedly destroyed bridges on the only road linking the rival capitals in an attempt to cut off fuel to Antananarivo, the stronghold of opposition leader Ravalomanana.