After days of deadly anti-government protests, one of those politicians — Andry Rajoelina, this capital city's mayor — declared that he was now in charge, essentially announcing a coup in this democratic country. So far, the military has yet to take sides.
ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar — As of Saturday, this exotic island, home to 300 species of frogs, 75 species of chameleons and three dozen species of lemurs, also has two species of politicians claiming to run the country.
After days of deadly anti-government protests, one of those politicians — Andry Rajoelina, this capital city’s mayor — declared that he was now in charge, essentially announcing a coup in this democratic country. So far, the military has yet to take sides.
Rajoelina and his supporters accuse the president, Marc Ravalomanana, of being a dictator who cares nothing about the people in one of the world’s poorest countries, where more than half of its 20 million people live eke out a living on about $1 a day.
“Since the president and the government have not taken their responsibilities, I proclaim I will now rule Madagascar and set up a transitional government,” Rajoelina, 34, declared before an exultant crowd of 3,000 that had lined this former French colony’s main boulevard, the Avenue de la Liberation.
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Rajoelina insisted that he would now be giving the military and the police their orders and told civil servants to stay home Monday. He asked foreign nations and the central bank to stop supporting Ravalomanana, a wealthy businessman who has led the country since his election in 2001.
Ravalomanana, 59, spent the afternoon in a meeting with several of his ministers, then downplayed the mayor’s attempted power grab as if it were a bureaucratic hiccup.
“It’s up to the minister of justice and the high court to deal with this,” he said. “We have to obey the law in Madagascar.”
The leader of his own Ready Young Malagasies Party, Rajoelina was elected mayor in December 2007 with 63 percent of the vote, a rare and major defeat for Ravalomanana’s I Love Madagascar Party.
By some estimates there have been more than 100 fatalities during two days of protests.
“The only durable solution is a dialogue between the president and the mayor,” said the U.S. ambassador, Niels Marquadt, who, along with other diplomats, has tried to talk the two politicians off the ledge. “They both say they are willing to negotiate without conditions, but then there’s always some obstacle that keeps them apart. It’s a bit of a cat-and-mouse game.”