Madagascar’s military hands power to Rajoelina

ANTANANARIVO, (Reuters) – Madagascar’s military  chiefs gave opposition leader Andry Rajoelina full powers yesterday to run the Indian Ocean island, ending a months-long  power struggle that has killed 135 people.

Former President Marc Ravalomanana resigned on Tuesday and  asked navy Admiral Hyppolite Ramaroson to form a military  government, but the top brass refused to take power.

“We give full powers to Mr Andry Rajoelina to become  president of the high transitional authority,” Ramaroson told  reporters at a military camp in the capital Antananarivo.

Weeks of turmoil and street protests in Madagascar, the  world’s fourth largest island, have crippled the $390  million-a-year tourism industry and worried foreign investors in  the important mining and oil exploration sectors.

Some Western powers, including the European Union, had  warned they would cut aid to anyone coming to power by force.

The charismatic Rajoelina, 34, had called the president a  dictator running Madagascar like a private firm with no concern  for the poor, tapping into widespread public discontent with  high levels of poverty.

Ravalomanana’s supporters had said the opposition leader was  a hothead bent on seizing power illegally.

Despite concerns from abroad that he should have gone to the  ballot box, Rajoelina mustered sufficient domestic support to  consolidate power on the huge, mineral-rich island off the coast  of southeast Africa.

Analysts said that once the military, which has typically  remained neutral in political disputes, sided with the  opposition leader, Ravalomanana, a self-made dairy tycoon, had  no option but to step down.

Some dissenting voices in the military had been quashed,  diplomatic sources said.

“Now the country has to convince donors that it is going  back to democracy — organising an election and putting in place  a transition government,” said Lydie Boka of the France-based  risk consultancy StrategieCo.

Rajoelina marched into the president’s city-centre offices  as soon as he had stepped down. But Rajoelina is too young to be  president, according to Madagascar’s constitution, which  stipulates 40 as a minimum age.

Rajoelina, a former disc jockey and sacked mayor of  Antananarivo, has been named president of a high transitional  authority which has pledged to hold presidential, general and  local elections within two years.

“We can say that we are free. There is a lot of work that  awaits us. It is the path Madagascar must take,” he said.

Under Madagascar’s constitution, the head of the upper house  of parliament should have assumed interim control after the  departure of the president, and elections held within 60 days.

The African Union, which opposes any unlawful transfer of  power on a continent only too familiar with bloody uprisings,  had demanded Malagasy parties “comply scrupulously” with the  constitution.

Philippe de Pontet, analyst at Eurasia Group, said the  appointment of Rajoelina would spare Madagascar further violent  unrest for now.

“While this is a major blow to the rule of law, and will  certainly cause aid suspensions by donors at a time when the  economy is already reeling, major mining and oil investors on  the ground will likely ride out the crisis without losing their  projects,” he said.

Mark Schroeder, Africa analyst at global intelligence firm  Stratfor, said Rajoelina would likely consolidate his position.

“If the military is behind this opposition power-grab,  nothing is going to reverse that. Condemnation from foreign  diplomats is not going to reverse it,” he said. “Once the dust  settles, the international community will go along with it.”

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