Madagascar crisis: No light at the end of the tunnel

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An arrest warrant has been issued for Madagascar opposition leader, Mr Rajoelina. The ex-mayor of Antananarivo who has been at loggerheads with the country’s president remains in hiding as the political unrest that has left more than 130 people dead, continues.

Mr. Rajoelina has been leading a three month old campaign to unseat the president, Marc Ravalomanana, accusing him of dictatorial tendencies. But the president has denied abusing power and vows to remain president until the end of his mandate in 2011. Marc Ravalomanana has been serving a second four year presidential term since 2006.

The political unrest was triggered when Mr. Rajoelina’s Television network, Viva TV, aired an interview with the country’s ex-president Didier Ratsiraka, who ruled the country for 26 years– after independence from France. Mr. Ratsiraka fled to France after losing the country’s highly polarised 2001 elections to Ravalomanana. The 2001 elections triggered widespread unrest for eight months, despite the High Constitutional Court’s endorsement of Ravalamomanana’s victory. The interview led to the banning of the Rajoelina’s Television station. Since then, security forces have continuously thwarted anti-Ravalomanana demonstrations.

In the month of January, Rajoelina infuriated the President when he inaugurated a Democarcy Square and encouraged over 20 000 supporters, who had gathered to cheer him on, to demonstrate despite a ban on demonstrations. The mass demonstrations coupled with lootings went on for days, during which several protestors lost their lives and a television station, reportedly, controlled by the president, was partially burnt. The rioters also attacked Radio Nationale Malgache in the capital and looted two warehouses of Ravalomanana’s Tiko food processing company.

Ravalomanana, a self-made millionaire, is one of the wealthiest men on the island.

Although he has been credited with opening the island for multiple investments in mineral and oil sectors, many have also accused Ravalomanana for leasing large parcels of land to the Korean company, Daewoo, for rice cultivation. Some Malagasies claim the the rice which is directly exported to Korea has contributed in skyrocketing the commodity’s price in the poor African nation. Meanwhile, the tourism industry, one of the island’s main economic sector, has been crippled with a $390 million loss since the beginning of the unrest last December.

January 31 Mr. Rajoelina declared himself president, announcing his own administration, “Since the president and the government have not taken their responsibilities, I therefore proclaim that I will run all national affairs as of today.” he said. On the February 3, Rajoelina was dismissed from office as mayor of Antananarivo.

Last Sunday, a group of military officers announced that they would now only follow orders from the ex-mayor. The situation caused an upheaval in the Madagascar executive arm of government and resulted in an attempt by security forces to arrest Mr Rajoelina, who last week walked out on direct talks with the president Ravalomanana. An arrest warrant has since been issued for Mr. Rajoelina following his acts of rebellion as the African island continues to wobble in its crisis.

Meanwhile, the situation has become even more confusing as news concerning the resignation of Defence Minister Admiral Mamy Ranaivoniarivo, only a month after being called to office, was released. Last month Cecile Manorohanta, the former Defence Minister resigned, saying that her conscience could not endure the bloodshed, after 28 people were shot dead in the riots.

The United Nations has been seeking to resolve the Malagasy crisis, and preserve peace and stability. However, earlier reports that the international agency had decided to place Mr Rajoelina under its protection in a diplomatic residence, did not sit well with president Ravalomanana who thinks the UN is taking sides with Mr. Rajoelina.

To maintain good relations with the president, a spokesman for the UN secretary general, Mr. Yves Sorokobi, quickly denied the reports that the UN envoy to Madagascar, Mr. Tiebile Drame, had taken Mr Rajeolina under their protection, insisting that Mr. Rajoelina had taken refuge at the French embassy, and not at the UN’s staff residence. A French diplomat is reported as saying that Mr. Rajoelina was moved to the French embassy at the request of the UN. The president has indicated that he will not seek the ex-mayor’s arrest.

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