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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Conflict in Madagascar escalating

afrol News, 28 March - The conflict between the two Malagasy Presidents is escalating and the former peaceful protests now are claiming death victims. While there have been fights in the provinces, causing deaths, the blockade on the capital, Antananarivo is getting more severe as a bridge linking the city with the island's second port was destroyed.

The escalation of the conflict seems to be a result of the more desperate situation of the followers of the internationally recognised President of Madagascar, Didier Ratsiraka, who has fled the capital and turned to starve the capital by blocking access roads. Self-proclaimed President Marc Ravalomanana meanwhile has gained total control of Antananarivo, where he also is mayor and has close to universal support.

Reports from Antananarivo confirm that the military governor of the city, General Leon Claude Raveloarison, who was appointed by President Ratsiraka a month ago to oversee the martial law that never was possible to carry out, had resigned from office Wednesday night. General Raveloarison took into account that he had not been able to make the military stationed in the capital to effectuate the orders imminent of the martial law.

Raveloarison stressed his neutrality between the two competing presidents, but said he was relived martial law not had been implemented as it was sure to have produced "deaths among inhabitants" of the capital. His resignation is in any case seen as yet another major blow to Ratsiraka's bid to maintain the presidency.

After having taken control of the presidency, the ministries and other administrative buildings, Ravalomanana and his government thus is in total control of the institutions of the capital. The military however remains split between the two presidents, prolonging the power struggle between them.

While the massive popular manifestations since early January in general have been peaceful, there are now reports by the French news agency AFP claiming violence erupted in the southern town of Fianarantsoa on Tuesday. Police, paramilitary gendarmes and soldiers were braking up a rally of several thousand Ravalomanana supporters, who responded by throwing petrol bombs at the residence of the Fianarantsoa governor, loyal to Ratsiraka.

Reuters reported that 28 people were injured in the fighting in Fianarantsoa. AP put the death toll was put at four, while the opposition reported that six of their supporters had been killed in the incident. A disturbing fact in this incident is that elements of the armed forces loyal to Ratsiraka for the first time used force in the conflict, rendering speculations that the split within the army might be widening to the point of making a civil war a possibility.

While there were signs of an upcoming reconciliation between Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka last week, the more desperate situation of Ratsiraka's followers seems to have contributed to actions further polarising the island.

A commando group suspected to be sympathetic to President Ratsiraka reportedly has destroyed a bridge on the Antananarivo - Mahajanga road link 600 km from Antananarivo, according to reports from PANA. "The commando was sent by Governor Etienne Razafindehibe, known to be close to Ratsiraka, to reinforce the stranglehold on Antananarivo," a local police officer told PANA. Mahajanga, at the east coast, is the island's second port, after eastern port city of Tamatave (Toamasina), which is under Ratsiraka's control.

The rupture of the Antananarivo - Mahajanga road is set to worsen the situation of food and energy supplies to the Malagasy capital, which already is low on supplies. The European Commission on Thursday demanded the lifting of these roadblocks, which "constitute serious obstacles to the free circulation of goods and people," according to UN media. France, the former colonial power in Madagascar, meanwhile urged both sides to reach agreement, and called for the roadblocks to be lifted.

There are, however, few signs of reconciliation at this moment. While Ratsiraka seems only further isolated - even international voices have started to speak out against his actions - his followers are seemingly getting more desperate. While the army strictly has kept a policy of non-intervention so far, reports of soldiers loyal to Ratsiraka participating in the violent suppression of the pro-Ravalomanana manifestations in Fianarantsoa have been observed as a scaring signal.

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