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AP/Jerome Delay
Antananarivo Mayor Andry Rajoelina gestures to supporters after an antigovernment rally in
Antananarivo, Madagascar, Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009. (AP)

Mayor Out After Leading Violent Protests in Madagascar

February 04, 2009 11:32 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The government has fired Andry Rajoelina, mayor of Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo, after he led violent protests last week to topple the current president.

Rajoelina Fired; African Union Warns Madagascar

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Madagascar’s national government offered no official explanation for Tuesday’s firing of Antananarivo Mayor Andry Rajoelina, who was elected in 2007, according to Voice of America. But the motivation was clear.

Rajoelina had claimed he was in charge of Madagascar’s government at a rally on Saturday, though President Marc Ravalomanana told reporters he was still in control of the government. Violent protests last week killed dozens of people; news services had reported more than 100 people died, but now most accounts put the number closer to 70. Rajoelina’s opposition party led the protests.

VOA also reported that police arrested six leaders of the opposition party earlier this week before a rally in Toamasina, a city on the northeastern coast. “The Reuters news agency quoted a police official who said the men were arrested for holding a pubic meeting without a permit,” VOA said.

After Rajoelina claimed control of the government, the African Union reminded him and his fellow citizens that there are rules against coups. The organization prohibited two other African states, Guinea and Mauritania, from a three-day summit that started this week; those two nations have had military coups during the last several months.

“We ask them (the Malagasy people) to cool down, to keep talking and to solve their problems with negotiation,” said Jean Ping, the African Union Commission chairman, in a weekend interview with Reuters. 

Protests, led my Rajoelina, started early last week in the capital city of Antananarivo, and by Monday all broadcasting in the island nation stopped after political opposition set fire to the country’s official broadcasting complex. Rajoelina called the current government a threat to democracy.

The absence of police and firefighters at the protests led some to speculate that they were in favor of the demonstration. Protestors also burned an oil station and a private TV station connected with President Ravalomanana. Additionally, they looted and destroyed buildings on the broadcast complex.

Rajoelina decided to halt the protests after what the Mail and Guardian called the worst instance of street violence the country had seen in years. He and Ravalomanana were scheduled to meet and discuss the current crisis, but Rajoelina backed out after a member of the opposition was killed by a Malagasy soldier.

Background: Political climate in Madagascar

Rajoelina ran as an independent against the current president’s party during the 2007 race for mayor. Since taking office in Antananarivo, he has become an outspoken opponent of the regime. He has called the current government a “dictatorship,” the AFP reports, and has led a number of protests against the government. 

The most recent round of protests is part of an ongoing response to Ravalomanana’s decision to shut down Rajoelina’s TV station, Viva, after Rajoelina broadcast an interview with an old political rival of the President’s, Didier Ratsiraka.

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

However, 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. But considerable political unrest continues in the region.

Key Players: Andry Rajoelina, Marc Ravalomanana

Andry Rajoelina, 34, was elected mayor of Antananarivo in 2007. He is a former disc jockey and advertising entrepreneur who now leads the Tanora malaGasy Vonona movement. He has the nickname TGV, the movement’s initials. It’s also a reference to high-speed French trains, which are like Rajoelina’s “rapid-fire personality,” the BBC said. According to the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks, Rajoelina is well known in the capital, but not the rest of the country, and that may have contributed to his failure to seize control of the national government.

Marc Ravalomanana is in the middle of his second term as president, having been re-elected in 2006. He is independently wealthy, and the company he ran before taking office is the country’s largest domestically owned business. His fortune is self-made, according to the BBC; he grew up in poverty and started by selling yogurt from the back of his bicycle. Ravalomanana started his political career as mayor of Antananarivo in 1999.
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