There have been new calls for Madagascar’s beleaguered President Ravalomanana to stand down.
He is offering a referendum as a way out of the crisis affecting the Indian Ocean island, but the opposition claim the country’s army is backing them and they are poised to take control. Observers say the army appears to be supporting opposition leader Andry Radjoelina, but its commanders have not confirmed his claims he is giving the orders now. Madagascar’s armed forces have traditionally remained neutral during various periods of unrest since independence from France in 1960. Radjoelina is a maverick. He is a former mayor of the capital, and for weeks now has claimed he has popular support to become Madagascar’s President. Those who back the country’s current ruler insist he is a trouble-maker bent on seizing power illegally. Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest countries with a population of 20 million. Continued violence has devastated tourism and prompted multi-national corporations to think about withdrawing. The island has been rocked by weeks of violent demonstrations as the supporters of the Radjoelina press for the current president to quit. The worst bloodshed was in the capital on February 7th when security forces including the presidential guard shot at least 28 protesters dead. The power struggle looks as if it is now entering its final phase with Radjoelina or Ravalomanana poised for victory.