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Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 09:32 GMT
'Ghost day' in Madagascar
Madagascans play cards
The capital city ground to a standstill
By Alastair Leithead in Antananarivo

The capital city of Madagascar is largely deserted on a weekday for the first time since national strikes and mass protests began more than a week ago.

Crisis timeline
16 Dec - Presidential election held
7 Jan - Opposition claim rigging, begin daily protests
16 Jan - Court orders vote recount
25 Jan - Result announced, run-off ordered
28 Jan - Opposition strike begins

On Monday more than half a million people crowded into the city to demonstrate, and were told to show their support for the opposition presidential candidate, Marc Ravalomanana by turning Antananarivo into a dead town.

While there are some cars in the centre of Antananarivo, the taxis and buses are on strike and the shops shut.

The change of tactic by Marc Ravalomanana is risky, but designed to show the government just how much control he has over the people.

Ten years ago when there were similar mass protests, the tactics failed, but with the city behaving more like a quiet Sunday than a busy weekday, it seems to have been largely successful.

Marc Ravalomanana (Pic courtesy DMD/Midi)
Mr Ravalomanana believes the count was fixed

The Avenue of Independence was packed with hundreds of thousands of people on Monday in the biggest show of support for Mr Ravalamanana in his dispute over the results of the presidential election.

Now it is abandoned.

None of the constant stream of marching protesters who completely filled the mile-long boulevard with a peaceful, almost carnival-like protest.

The mass action is due to continue on Wednesday, meanwhile the government, and incumbent president Didier Ratsiraka remain quiet.

The standoff goes on.

Evidence

The demonstrations have been building for more than three weeks since the results of the presidential election were released.

President Didier Ratsiraka
President Ratsiraka is keeping a low profile

Mr Ravalomanana clearly won the ballot with more than 200,000 votes over President Ratsiraka.

But the official vote said he secured only 46%, short of the absolute majority needed to avoid a second round of voting.

Mr Ravalomanana claims the election was not carried out fairly and says he has evidence proving he secured at least 52% of the vote.

It is also the second week of a general strike which is having an impact on the economy.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Alastair Leithead
"A strong message to the government"
See also:

28 Jan 02 | Africa
Madagascar's largest protest yet
05 Feb 02 | Africa
People power grips Madagascar
01 Feb 02 | Africa
No end to dispute in Madagascar
30 Jan 02 | Africa
Madagascar opposition stands firm
29 Jan 02 | Africa
Madagascar in election turmoil
11 Jan 02 | Africa
Two sides to Madagascar row
17 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Madagascar
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