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Opposition chief claims to command army

Video by Cyril VANIER , Virginie HERZ

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-03-15

Madagascar's opposition leader Andry Rajoelina says he is in command of the country's army, after his movement claimed to have toppled the government earlier in the day. He said President Marc Ravalomanana was a spent force.

Madagascar’s opposition has unilaterally declared it is now running the country, with opposition leader Andry Rajoelina maintaining that he had the army’s backing Sunday. But President Marc Ravalomanana insists he is still in charge.

Speaking to FRANCE 24 shortly before he addressed a rally Saturday in the capital of Antananarivo in his first public appearance since going into hiding earlier in the month, Rajoelina reiterated that he had the army’s support.

"The army no longer takes its orders from the president of the republic," he said. "It is I who command the army today. They receive orders from Andry Rajoelina, and not only in Antananarivo, but throughout Madagascar."

But President Ravalomanana has defied his arch foe’s call to “humbly leave power”.

Reporting from Madagascar, FRANCE 24’s Cyril Vanier said a group of Ravalomanana’s supporters, armed with sticks and stones, had set up roadblocks and were manning barricades around the area where the presidential palace stands.

“We are going to fight to protect our president from the opposition people, from the terrorists,” a supporter outside the presidential palace told FRANCE 24.

While the opposition has occupied the prime minister’s office, Vanier said there was little sign the opposition was willing to take the presidential palace by force.

‘All eyes’ on the country’s constitutional court


The bitter political rivalry between the country’s president and the former mayor of the capital city has put the Indian Ocean island on edge and has crippled the nation’s critical tourism industry in the past few weeks.

More than 130 people have been killed during seven weeks of political unrest.

The feuding deepened a week ago when sections of the army enraged over orders to crackdown on opposition demonstrators mutinied. The army chief was ousted and a rebel soldier was put in his place.

Vanier said the opposition certainly seemed to enjoy the support of most of the army. On Saturday, for instance, Rajoelina made his public appearance at Independence Square in the heart of Antananarivo flanked by military personnel.

But it was unclear if the opposition enjoyed total military support. “A spokesperson for the military told me there was a minority within their ranks that does not approve of the mutiny that took place a week ago,” said Vanier. “The same spokesperson for the army told me that they had been asked not to voice their dissent.”

On Saturday, the opposition called on the country’s constitutional court to recognise that they had taken control of power.

“All eyes are now on the constitutional court,” said Vanier. “It should deliver some kind of verdict in the coming days and for the moment, we don’t know on which side of the fence they will fall.”

Date created : 2009-03-15

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