Jerome Delay/AP
Marc Ravalomanana

Madagascar Faces More Unrest; Ousted Leader Vows to Return Soon

April 21, 2009 11:30 AM
by Cara McDonough
A month after the elected president was forced out, his supporters protested this week and two people died. Marc Ravalomanana plans to return to the country.

Closure of Radio Stations Helped Spark Protests

More than 13 people who support the ousted president were injured in protests this week in Madagascar's captial of Antananarivo.

Andry Rajoelina, the capital's former mayor, took control of the government in March after the military forced Ravalomanana to resign.

"Witnesses say security forces opened fire on the protesters who had barricaded roads and thrown stones," reported the Australian Broadcasting Corp. and Agence France-Presse. 

According to ABC and AFP, "they were protesting against the closure of two anti-government radio stations."

In January, the closure of a television station set off riots that killed more than 100 and marked the beginning of the end for Ravalomanana's tenure as president. The government, then led by Ravalomanana, ordered the closure of Rajoelina's television station.

After "resigning at gunpoint," as the Financial Times puts it, he fled to South Africa. The new Malagasy government has an arrest warrant out for him, accusing his company of failing to pay millions of dollars in taxes.

The power transfer has led the Southern African Development Community to suspend Madagascar, and other nations have expressed disapproval at the move.

Ravalomanana told reporters in Johannesburg Monday that he plans to return to his home country "in a few weeks," the Financial Times reported.

"I am still the president of Madagascar and I will work with all parties interested in a peaceful outcome," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

He also asked other governments in the region "to rally behind him in the name of democracy," the Times said.

Reaction: Groups and nations disapproved of takeover

Following the island nation’s transfer of power to its military, and then to opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said that the United States is “evaluating what impact this transfer is going to have on all elements of our relationship with the government of Madagascar.”

According to Bloomberg, Rajoelina is “a 34-year-old former nightclub disc jockey-turned-businessman,” who has taken over the presidency with help from the military. Marc Ravalomanana stepped down from the post in early March after opposition members took over his office.

Madagascar received $86.2 million in assistance from the United States over the last fiscal year, including $27.3 million provided through the Millennium Challenge Corp., a program that aims to reduce poverty in developing nations that demonstrate improvement in their records on political and civil liberties, and corruption.
What will happen next? For the immediate future, the people of Madagascar will likely look to restore structure to their nation’s government, while dealing with international disapproval.

The United States is not alone in its reaction; Voice of America reports that a group of African nations, represented by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), say Rajoelina's takeover was unconstitutional and has urged the international community not to recognize his presidency.

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Background: Unrest in Madagascar

In early March, soldiers who supported Rajoelina and the opposition movement forced army chief Gen. Edmond Rasolomahandry to resign.

The move was further evidence that the opposition group was leading the military, and the latest blow to then-President Ravalomanana as he struggled to keep control amid growing unrest.

Considering the escalating conflict, the U.S. State Department suggested that Americans leave the island. Reuters quoted a message from the American embassy in Madagascar that stated: “We encourage all Americans in Madagascar to monitor the situation closely and consider departing the country while commercial air is still operating normally.”

Even as he holds the presidency, Rajoelina’s background has been seriously questioned. He was fired as mayor of Antananarivo in February after leading repeated anti-government demonstrations, and declaring himself in charge of the country.

Ravalomanana’s political past includes controversy as well. In 2002, he declared himself the country’s leader after what he claimed was a corrupt election denied him victory. Then-incumbent President Didier Ratsiraka agreed to a second round of voting. The government refused to validate the declaration, and Ravalomanana faced the threat of becoming an international criminal.

But after months of violence and economic instability, Ratsiraka fled to France. Ravalomanana began an era of reform and has consistently attempted to decentralize government and empower leaders in smaller provinces.

However, poverty remains widespread in Madagascar, and some have blamed the president for not doing more to alleviate it. The country's tourism sector has also been hit hard by the unrest, Reuters reported earlier this month.

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