madagascar riots, madagascar unrest, madagascar protests
Associated Press
Security forces and protesters are seen in Anatanarivo, Madagascar on Feb. 7, 2009.

African Union Commission to Intervene as Protests Continue in Madagascar

March 02, 2009 03:30 PM
by Emily Coakley
Continuing protests in Madagascar's capital led police to fire tear gas Monday, as a political rival urges President Marc Ravalomanana to step down.

Protests Continue

During a rally Monday in Antananarivo, police used tear gas to disperse protesters and looters, Reuters reported. Andry Rajoelina, the capital's former mayor, has been leading an effort to get Ravalomanana to leave office

Jean Ping, the African Union Commission's chairman, told Reuters that Ramtane Lamamra, the Commissioner for Peace and Security, would visit Madagascar this week, "in a bid to solve the volatile situation." 

The news service also reported that several more bodies had been found in a building that burned during protests in January.

Last month, hundreds, perhaps thousands of people unhappy with Madagascar’s current president, Marc Ravalomanana, were marching toward the presidential palace when police or presidential guards—reports vary as to who—opened fire.

News stories also offered conflicting casualty reports; the Daily Telegraph quoted a police spokesman who said, “In the city’s three main hospitals, we counted 28 dead and 212 wounded.” But Al Jazeera reported that “at least 50 protesters were shot dead.”

Andry Rajoelina, who was fired as mayor of Antananarivo last week after leading repeated antigovernment demonstrations and even declaring himself in charge of the country, has said he would keep protesting. “I condemn you Mr. Ravalomanana. Was there a life in the palace to protect? Did the defence of these offices require the spilling of all this blood?” Rajoelina said in a statement his private television station aired Sunday, Reuters reported.

The capital has had a curfew for the last week, and that will continue, Al Jazeera said. Security forces are also patrolling Antananarivo.

Background: Political climate in Madagascar

Rajoelina, who has called Ravalomanana's government a threat to democracy, started protests at the end of January in the capital. Broadcasting in the island nation even briefly ceased after political opposition set fire to the country’s official broadcasting complex. Rajoelina halted the protests at that point, after what the Mail and Guardian called the worst instance of street violence the country had seen in years. Approximately 68 people died.

Rajoelina then claimed he was in charge of Madagascar’s government at a rally on last week, though President Ravalomanana told reporters he was still in control of the government.

The next week, Madagascar’s national government fired Rajoelina, who was elected in 2007, according to Voice of America. 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.

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. 

This 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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