- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ANTANANARIVO, MADAGASCAR (AP) - Madagascar’s embattled president was holed up on the edge of town Tuesday, surrounded by supporters a day after dozens of soldiers seized an unoccupied presidential palace.

Many in the capital expected opposition leader Andry Rajoelina to set up a base in the downtown palace, where the soldiers pushed through the gates in an armored vehicle Monday night, meeting no resistance.

Troops could be seen taking control of the streets around that palace Tuesday, directing traffic and blocking off streets.

Other soldiers had told the president’s supporters to take down barricades around the building where he was staying but they remained up Tuesday.

Rajoelina accuses President Marc Ravalomanana of misspending public funds and undermining democracy in Madagascar_ an impoverished Indian Ocean island known both for its natural beauty and its history of political infighting and instability. Rajoelina declared himself president of a transitional government over the weekend and promised new presidential elections within two years. On Monday, he called on the army to arrest the president, but soldiers have not moved on him.

The president charges that Rajoelina is seeking power by unconstitutional means, and has said he would not resign. The breakaway army faction that took over the palace Monday has not explicitly backed but the split in the military has greatly weakened the president.

Edmond Razafimanantena, a newsstand owner in the capital, said he didn’t want the president, his rival or the soldiers in charge.

“You can’t expect anything from these politicians, the opposition is as bad as the government. And you can’t accept mutinous soldiers running the country,” he said.

Tensions have been rising since late January, when the government blocked an opposition radio station’s signal. Rajoelina supporters set fire to a building in the government broadcasting complex as well as an oil depot, a shopping mall and a private TV station linked to Ravalomanana. Scores of people were killed.

Days later, soldiers opened fire on anti-government protesters, killing at least 25. The incident _ at the same palace seized Monday _ cost Ravalomanana much of the support of the military, which blamed him for the order to fire at demonstrators.

Angele Ramaromihanta, a secretary living in the capital, said a peaceful solution must be found.

“I don’t understand why the politicians don’t want to talk,” she said Tuesday. “I’m afraid of the army seizing power _ donors won’t want to help us.”



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