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MADAGASCAR: Protesters on the streets in fourth day of violence

Antananarivo, 27 January 2009 (IRIN) - Police fired into the air on 27 January to disperse looters on the fourth day of civil unrest in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo.

Many of the city's main food and electric stores have been broken into, and fires were burning near the city's central market area. The police kept a low profile at the height of the looting.

A spokesman for the Malagasy Red Cross told IRIN that two people were killed on 26 January and 17 wounded when anti-government protests turned violent.

Thousands of people calling for the removal of the government have taken to Antananarivo's streets in recent days in response to calls from the capital's outspoken mayor, Andry Rajoelina, 34, who has accused the government of stifling democracy and clamping down on press freedom. He has called for the president to step down, and for the formation of a transitional government, which he would lead.

At a rally on 25 January, which took place despite being banned by authorities, the mayor called for a general strike in Antananarivo. The following day he again addressed supporters, telling them, "Nowhere in the world has a military force ever succeeded in overcoming the force of the people. Power belongs to the people."

A demonstrator told IRIN, "It is time to change the regime. We want to return power to the small people."

President Marc Ravalomanana has called for calm, cutting short a trip to South Africa where he was attending a summit of regional leaders. He has urged people not to take part in what he has called a "revolt" incited by the mayor.

It could get worse

Madagascar has a history of political upheavals and recent events have left many people afraid that the current situation could deteriorate further.

A disputed presidential election in 2001, in which both former President Didier Ratasiraka and Ravalomanana claimed victory, resulted in widespread violence and six months of political deadlock that bought the country to a standstill. Ravalomanana was declared president after a court upheld his victory and was re-elected for a second term in 2006, winning 55 percent of the vote.

Political tension in Antananarivo has been on the rise since the authorities closed the VIVA television network, controlled by Rajoelina, in December 2008. But the relationship between the president and the mayor has been strained since Rajoelina was elected in 2007.

On 25 January VIVA's radio broadcasting arm was also closed, sparking the demonstrations. Madagascar's state-owned broadcasting complex was targeted by crowds demanding that VIVA broadcasts be resumed.

''He is just being used by the old dinosaurs of Malagasy politics, who want to gain more power''
Ravalomanana's personally owned broadcasting station was also attacked, and elsewhere in the city offices and warehouse complexes associated with the president's business interests were broken into, looted and burned.

The international community is urging Ravalomanana and the mayor to negotiate, and both men have called for calm. But the mayor has imposed conditions before meeting with the president, including that those responsible for killing the two protesters on 26 January be bought to justice.

Not everyone believes the mayor is the right man to lead the transitional government he has called for. "Rajoelina is too young and not competent enough to lead the country," a resident who wished to remain anonymous told IRIN. "He is just being used by the old dinosaurs of Malagasy politics, who want to gain more power."

An army veteran and supporter of Rajoelina told IRIN that dialogue was the best way forward. "The future for us is to be able to talk freely to the authorities. At the moment we can't do anything - we can't talk to the government or the authorities."

cc/oa/he

Theme (s): Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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