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Soldiers storm presidential palace

Video by Carla WESTERHEIDE

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-03-17

Soldiers seized a presidential palace in Madagascar’s capital of Antananarivo. FRANCE 24's correspondent Cyril Vanier reported that President Marc Ravalomanana was not in the building during the assault.

Soldiers stormed a presidential palace in Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo earlier on Monday, smashing the gates and seizing the building in a symbolic assault against Ravalomanana. Madagascar’s embattled president was not inside the building during the assault.

Reporting from Antananarivo, FRANCE 24’s Cyril Vanier said the operation started around 6.30 pm local time. “About 40 soldiers from the army and military police deployed around the palace,” said Vanier.

Two armoured vehicles charged at the entrance of the presidential palace, flattening the gates, reported Vanier, who was at the scene during the operation. Shortly after entering the building, the soldiers fired warning shots, said Vanier, and there appeared to be no exchange of gunfire.

Ravalomanana is believed to be holed up in another presidential palace located about 12 kilometres outside the capital city.


Vanier explained that there were two presidential palaces in Madagascar. “One, where the president currently resides about 12 km outside the capital, and the one under attack, which is largely symbolic,” said Vanier.

Hours after the operation ended, Madagascar's opposition leader Andry Rajoelina maintained that he did not give the order to the army to carry out this siege.

African Union condemns opposition’s coup d’etat

The roots of the current crisis in the Indian Ocean island nation lie in a bitter power struggle between President Ravalomanana and former Antananarivo mayor Rajoelina. More than 130 people have been killed since demonstrations broke out earlier this year.


Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana discussed military support with both the United Nations and South African states, his spokesman said on Monday.

Earlier on Monday, the African Union said the opposition’s push to remove the president was an attempted coup d'etat and called on the people of the Indian Ocean island to respect their constitution.


"The situation in Madagascar is an internal conflict. It is an attempted coup d'etat. We condemn the attempted coup d'etat," Edouard Alo-Glele, Benin's envoy to Ethiopia, told reporters after a meeting of the AU's Peace and Security Council.

The condemnation followed opposition leader Rajoelina's call for Ravalomanana's arrest, during a rally in Antananarivo earlier on Monday.

However, the new army chief Andre Andriarijaona, who is currently leading the soldiers who mutinied on Sunday, told FRANCE 24 that the army would not issue the arrest warrant. "According to the new army chief, their role is not to arrest the people, it's to stand by the people," Vanier reported.



'No need to hold a referendum'

Earlier on Monday, Rajoelina rejected Ravalomanana's offer to hold a referendum to solve the political stand-off.


"The referendum is already done. The people have already expressed themselves. There is no need to hold a referendum," he told national television prior to an opposition rally. "The resignation of Ravalomanana is the solution."


The embattled president had on Sunday dismissed rival Rajoelina’s call to quit office, saying he would face a referendum if necessary. The head of state, however, gave no further details as to what type of poll he would agree to participate in. Negotiations between the two sides ground to a halt weeks ago.



Date created : 2009-03-16