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Madagascar Opposition Leader Takes Charge

Madagascar's chief opposition leader announced, after two weeks of hiding, that he will be taking over the nation and giving President Marc Ravalomanana a four-hour deadline to step down, the New York Times reported.

In a speech before thousands of supporters, Andry Rajoelina declared he would personally walk to Iavoloha Palace to tell the president the news. As night fell, however, Ravalomanana said he would not quit.

He also issued a public statement that said opposition did not have legitimacy and was only “a street protest which uses terror and repression to survive.”

This is the second time Rajoelina declared himself as president; the first on Jan. 31. And, over the past seven weeks, the rivalry between him and the president have been reason for protests and riots resulting in deaths of over 100 people and also some the military's recent division.

“The military is not willing to protect the president, so everyone who voted for the president is now protecting him,” said Rolland Radasy, one of the government’s education advisers, reached by telephone amid a boisterous crowd. “The people here will not be intimidated.” (New York Times)

However, Rajoelina's only request, he said, is to gain presidency.

“The hands of Andry Rajoelina are clean,” he said. “I don’t intend to kill him. I don’t want to send tanks and soldiers to the palace.” (New York Times)

Most of the 20 million people living in Madagascar make live off $1 per day, and Ravalomanana, 59, once sold yogurt off the back of a bicycle. He later built a conglomerate of dairies, stores and a television station. He took office after a disputed election in 2001 and was re-elected in 2006. Rajoelina, 34, also owns a television station, and became well known as a disc jockey. He was elected mayor of Antananarivo in December 2007.

The rivalry began last year about Antananarivo’s debts, where the mayor then began calling the president a dictator and thief. Many of the poor were increasingly disappointed with Ravalomanana’s presidency, and Rajoelina acuses him of ignoring the high levels of poverty, Reuters news reported. The people's choice that was picked in a free election had to be defended, the president said.