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War of words heightens tension in capital

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-03-13

Dissident soldiers moved armoured vehicles into Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo Friday following the weekend’s military mutiny as the crisis deepened in the island nation. FRANCE 24’s Cyril Vanier reports from Antananarivo.

FRANCE 24 correspondent Cyril Vanier in Madagascar answers readers’ questions about the crisis.


Days after sections of Madagascar’s army mutinied, dissident soldiers moved armoured vehicles into the capital of Antananarivo Friday as the crisis in the Indian Ocean island escalated.


Reporting from Antananarivo, FRANCE 24’s Cyril Vanier said the army and military police confirmed that “a small number” of armoured vehicles had been brought from their locations outside the capital to be stationed at the military camps inside town.


Vanier however dismissed reports that tanks were deployed on the capital’s streets and outside the presidential palace.


The roots of the current crisis in Madagascar lies in a bitter power struggle between President Marc Ravalomanana and former Antananarivo mayor Andry Rajoelina that broke out early this year. More than 130 people have been killed in the turmoil, crippling the picturesque island nation’s critical tourism industry.


On Wednesday, army chief Gen. Edmond Rasolofomahandry was ousted after warning the feuding political leaders that they had 72 hours to resolve their differences. He was replaced by a rebel soldier, Andre Andriarijaona.


Rasolofomahandry’s ouster followed a mutiny over the weekend by soldiers opposed to the government’s orders to crack down on opposition demonstrators.


In a statement read on Ravalomanana's private radio station Friday, the president called on Antananarivo residents in the capital to repel dissident troops.


“The radio called on presidential supporters to keep an eye out because there were concerns that perhaps the army, that no longer answers to the president, might be readying to take the presidential palace by force,” said Vanier.


'A peaceful show of force’


Amid mounting confusion over the situation in Madagascar, there were growing signs that the opposition seemed to have the military’s support and had put together a “transitional team”.


On Thursday the so-called "prime minister" of opposition, Rajoelina, met with Madagascar’s Prime Minister Charles Rabemananjara.


According to Vanier, the opposition drove into the prime minister’s residents flanked by the military in what he called a “peaceful show of force”.


While there were signs that the military appeared to support the opposition, a spokesman for the rebel soldiers denied that the troops were taking orders from the opposition.


But the weekend’s mutiny, according to Vanier, appeared to have shifted the balance of power in the opposition’s favour. “Despite the army’s claims that it does not want to get into politics and that it leaves politics to the politicians, the fact is their decision to rise up against the president has given a boost to the opposition,” said Vanier. “The opposition feels their main hurdle on their path to power has been cleared.”


While critics of Rajoelina accuse the former disc jokey of being a maverick and a troublemaker, experts are still not sure if he enjoys popular support across the island or has over-played his hand in a bitter personal and political feud.


Date created : 2009-03-13