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MADAGASCAR: No end in sight to standoff

Antananarivo, 19 February 2009 (IRIN) - Representatives from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have arrived in Madagascar to facilitate talks between the feuding president and opposition leader.

[In a two-part series, IRIN asked three analysts to examine the political standoff:
Click here for Part One and here for Part Two.]

In the capital, Antananarivo, anti-government protestors marched on ministries for a third day in an attempt to install a new government as heavily armed security forces kept them at bay. The demonstrations on Wednesday 18 February ended peacefully.

Opposition leader and former mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, is calling for President Marc Ravalomanana to stand down. He told his supporters the struggle was not yet over, and he would continue until he had won victory. More than 100 people have been killed since violence broke out in January.

Protests go on

Rajoelina's supporters said continuing the street protests was the only way forward. "We are making another choice; we want change. This is our way," one demonstrator, a middle aged man, told IRIN.

Large-scale demonstrations in 2002 had swept aside the regime of former president Didier Ratsiraka. "It is the best way; in 2002 we brought Ravalomanana to power in the same way, but he has betrayed us and now we want change," the demonstrator said.

On Monday 16 February, after a tense standoff with anti-government protesters, security forces protecting government offices fired warning shots into the air and released tear gas to disperse crowds and prevent looting in the central market area.

Crowds gathered again on Tuesday, when Rajoelina addressed his supporters and called for peaceful sit-ins to be held outside ministries to prevent government workers from gaining access.

So far the armed forces have remained neutral but on Tuesday 17 February, Madagascar's army chiefs spoke out, saying they would "fulfil their duties" in upholding national unity.

''Rajoelina is only the tip of the iceberg. He is just a spokesman and everyone with a grievance against the president has got behind him''
Amid confusion, cyclones and drought


Observers noted that a solution would be hard to find because Madagascar's complex politics were largely driven by individuals rather than political ideologies. "Rajoelina is only the tip of the iceberg," an analyst who wished to remain nameless told IRIN. "He is just a spokesman and everyone with a grievance against the president has got behind him, but this is really the politics of manipulation and revenge."

In an interview with IRIN, Andry Ralijaona [no relation to the opposition leader], secretary-general of the Madagascar Action Plan (MAP), the island's ambitious blueprint for economic and social development, acknowledged the frustration of people who felt unable to express their grievances and said weaknesses in the government's communications strategy have been partly to blame for the crisis.

"Not everybody understands the way that [social and economic] reforms are being implemented - one lesson that we can draw from the current situation is that communications have been weak, and we have not devoted enough time in explaining the steps we have to undergo to reach our goals. We need to do more to bridge the gap between the government and Madagascar's most vulnerable people," he told IRIN.

"I suspect we will see some dramatic changes," said Ralijaona. "The approach of the government in terms of transparency, and in terms of better communications, is going to change." He said the government was looking at improving and expanding dialogue with ordinary citizens through television and radio programmes.

The political unrest has coincided with the country's annual cyclone season, which is also usually a time food of shortages in southern Madagascar.

In the southwestern city of Toliara, looters have targeted food warehouses and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has had to enhance security at its depots throughout the country. WFP warned that the political situation was making it more difficult to operate.

cc/tdm/he

Theme (s): Conflict, Governance,

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

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