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Opposition leader ends talks with president

Madagascar opposition leader Andry Rajoelina announced on Wednesday he was no longer taking part in negotiations to end weeks of protests, saying "the nation was not a priority" for President Ravalomanana, who failed to show up for talks.


AFP - Madagascar opposition leader Andry Rajoelina announced Wednesday he was breaking off talks with President Marc Ravalomanana aimed at ending a deadly weeks-old power struggle and resuming mass street action.

"As of today, I, who is leading this struggle, will no longer take part in these negotiations," Rajoelina told reporters after Ravalomanana failed to show up for the latest round of talks on Wednesday.

"I went to this meeting with the aim of finding a solution to the crisis Madagascar is currently experiencing," Rajoelina said.

"The fact that the president did not show up for this meeting means that the nation is not a priority for him," he charged, adding that he had been "completely disappointed" by his three previous meeting with Ravalomanana.

The annnouncement by the fiery 34-year-old opposition leader came after Odon Razanakolona, the chairman of the Christian Council of Churches in Madasgascar, announced he was quitting as chief mediator.

"During the three meetings, there was no progress. It's a complete deadlock... I am pulling out of the mediation," he said.

On Monday, Rajoelina had already indirectly expressed disappointment with the negotiations, when one of his aides said Ravalomanana had evaded "the heart of the matter" and "minimised the scale of the crisis."

Close to 100 people have died in protests and riots since the power struggle escalated between Rajoelina and Ravalomanana, whom the opposition leader describes as a dictator starving his people.

At least 28 were killed and more than 200 wounded when the presidential guard opened fire on an opposition protest on February 7.

The unprecedented carnage drew wide condemnation and sparked intensified pressure from the international community for the two foes to engage in talks.

The two have been at odds since the mayor's election in 2007 but their tug-of-war worsened in December when authorities shut Rajoelina's TV network for airing an interview with former president Didier Ratsiraka.

Yet following Wednesday's collapse of the discussions with Ravalomanana, Rajoelina vowed to resume street action in his bid to unseat Ravalomanana, who has led the country with an iron fist since 2002.

"From now on, the people will have its say. We are going to step up our claims and return to May 13 square," Rajoelina said, in reference to the square in the capital where the opposition has been holding its rallies.

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and Rajoelina's attacks on the president's economic policies havve received wide support across the island.

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