The opposition in Madagascar, led by 34-year old Andry Rajoelina, has claimed power in the Indian Ocean island, launching a transition administration with promises of new elections within two years.
Rajoelina symbolically entered the Presidential Palace compound as his supporters celebrated on the streets. The presence of soldiers in his party confirmed reports that the military is overwhelmingly behind the opposition. Former President Marc Ravalomanane has been accused of running Madagascar like a private fief. He is reported to have fled, and to be hiding in another presidential retreat guarded by loyal troops. Weeks of unrest had left him with little choice. The widening gap between rich and poor, combined with the global economic downturn, had emboldened the opposition to force him out. There had been wild talk of a fight to the death, but the president appears to have taken a more pragmatic view and stepped down. At least 135 people were killed in street clashes this year. The violence crippled Madagascar’s vital tourist trade, and scared off investors in this mining and oil-rich island.