Police scatter protesters in Madagascar capital

AP News
Posted: Dec 22, 2009 4:13 PM

Security forces in Madagascar's capital used tear gas Tuesday to scatter hundreds of protesters angered by the military-backed leader's rejection of international attempts to mediate a political resolution.

In protests marking an escalation of tensions after months of crisis, about a thousand people gathered outside the parliament building were quickly dispersed. Col. Richard Ravalomanana, head of Antananarivo's police force, said two protesters were wounded and 13 arrested.

Rivals of Andry Rajoelina, a former disc jockey and mayor who seized power in March, had called a meeting at parliament of politicians designated as lawmakers under an agreement sponsored by international mediators to create a transitional coalition. The violence prevented the meeting from going ahead.

Over the weekend, Rajoelina had declared the agreemnt "null and void." The transitional government was to have organized elections by November 2010.

Instead, Rajoelina has named his own prime minister _ a top ranking military official _ and unilaterally declared he would hold elections in March 2010.

The weekend moves were part of a pattern of defiance by Rajoelina. The African Union has condemned Rajoelina and suspended Madagascar until it has a government elected through fair and transparent elections.

Rajoelina first gained fame in his homeland as a disc jockey and then was elected mayor of the capital. Starting last year, he led a campaign of street protests that, with the military's help, culminated in President Marc Ravalomanana's ouster. When he took power, Rajoelina was 34, six years too young to be president according to the country's constitution.

Rajoelina accused Ravalomanana, a wealthy businessman, of misuse of office and being blind to the poverty of his people. Ravalomanana says his rival is a populist and rabble-rouser with little genuine interest in democracy.

Infighting has been a hallmark of Madagascar's politics.

In 2001, Ravalomanana clashed with former President Didier Ratsiraka when both claimed the presidency after a disputed election. After low-level fighting split the country between two governments, two capitals and two presidents, Ratsiraka fled to France in June 2002.

Ravalomanana won re-election in 2006.

This Indian Ocean island nation is home to 20 million people. It is famous for wildlife and plants found nowhere else in the world.