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Political situation on a knife-edge after military mutiny

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-03-15

A military mutiny followed by the ouster of Madagascar’s army chief has boosted the opposition, with all eyes set on a possible opposition takeover of key government sites, according to FRANCE 24’s Cyril Vanier, reporting from Antananarivo.

A day after mutinous pro-opposition soldiers forced the ouster of Madagascar’s army chief, the opposition in the troubled Indian Ocean island nation looked set to take over key government sites and ministries.


Reporting from Madagascar’s capital of Antananarivo Thursday, FRANCE 24’s Cyril Vanier said a mutiny over the weekend by troops enraged by the government’s crackdown on opposition demonstrations had provided a “major boost” to the opposition.


“They feel the main hurdle in their path to taking office has been removed,” said Vanier. “The opposition’s strategy now is to gradually, but effectively, take control of key sites such as ministries and even the police.”


Madagascar has been gripped by a deadly political crisis since the start of the year when opposition protesters took to the streets in support of Andry Rajoelina, the former Antananarivo mayor, who is locked in a power struggle with President Marc Ravalomanana. More than 130 people have been killed since protests broke out in the picturesque island nation.


The crisis deepened over the weekend when dissident soldiers opposed to the crackdowns on Rajoelina’s supporters, took over the army headquarters. On Wednesday, army chief Gen. Edmond Rasolofomahandry was sacked after warning the feuding political leaders that they had 72 hours to resolve their differences.


The threat of a military coup was lifted when a rebel soldier, Andre Andriarijaona, declared himself head of the army.


The latest military developments, said Vanier, had advanced the opposition’s strategy to take over government sites.


“They have been trying to do so for weeks, but for the first time they feel the army is not going to get in their way,” said Vanier. “I have just been invited to a ceremony on Friday by a high-ranking police officer, who is a member of the opposition’s political bureau, who tells me that he is planning to take effective control of the police.”


On the verge of ‘civil war’


Madagascar’s deadly political crisis has crippled the island’s economy and has had a devastating impact on tourism and much-needed foreign investments.


On Wednesday, local media quoted US Ambassador Niels Marquardt as saying Madagascar was on "the verge of civil war".


But reporting from Madagascar, Vanier said the threat of a civil war was a bit of an overstatement.


“He’s right in saying the institutions here are paralyzed, the government is powerless and indeed the army has mutinied,” said Vanier, referring to Marquardt’s warning. “But a good test of whether this is a civil war is whether ordinary people, neighbours, get along – and they do.”


Demonstration in Antananarivo turns deadly


Violent protests have been an almost daily occurrence in Madagascar ever since the crisis began.


On Wednesday, one man was killed when the army fired into a group of pro-government demonstrators who had gathered outside government buildings in Antananarivo.


“The army fired several warning shots in the air, but I can confirm they shot at least once into the crowd because when I got there moments after the first warning shots were fired, a man lay dead on the ground. He had taken a bullet to the chest. The people around him had the same story: that he was shot by the army,” said Vanier.


It was not clear if the victim was a pro-government demonstrator or a bystander, said Vanier.


Mediation talks between the feuding political factions were called off Thursday following a boycott by opposition leader Rajoelina.

Date created : 2009-03-12