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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 17:58 GMT
Two sides to Madagascar row
With huge demonstrations having taken place in Madagascar in support of opposition presidential candidate Marc Ravalomanana, the media has reflected both sides in the controversy over the outcome of the December poll.
With official results not expected till the end of January, Mr Ravalomanana insists he won the contest outright, while the incumbent president, Didier Ratsiraka, says a runoff is necessary.
"For the New Year, the Malagasy people were treated to two goodwill messages," the daily Midi Madagasikara recalled, noting that both contenders took the opportunity to canvass popular support.
"The two speeches differed both in form and substance, except in their reference to God to whom both orators entrusted the destiny of the Big Island, its people and their own," the paper said.
It said the two men - aware of the role of the churches in their "intense combat" - had effectively "wrung the neck of the republic's secular nature".
In his appeal, Mr Ravalomanana reiterated his countrymen's thirst for change, better living standards and justice. "This should be the year of the Great Leap towards Madagascar's rapid development," he said, according to Midi Madagasikara.
President Ratsiraka's own address was broadcast on state Madagascar radio.
"Rumours are being circulated that Ratsiraka will never accept the poll results and that he will reportedly not fail to provoke riots or ethnic clashes," the president said. "Malagasy people, may I remind you with profound humility that this cannot be true..."
He went on to appeal to the people to "accept any election results published by the High Constitutional Court, which is the only constitutionally-recognised institution empowered to proclaim official election results".
Nevertheless the opposition felt encouraged to up the stakes.
"When dialogue breaks down, the only way left is to take one's protest onto the streets," Midi Madagasikara reported. "With this lesson from Madagascar's political history strongly in their minds, Marc Ravalomanana's supporters have decided to take the plunge."
It questioned the despatch of troops "to calm down people"
Madagascar radio broadcast an appeal by Army Minister Gen Marcel Ranjeva, who said the authorities would not "sit around idly if unlawful acts were committed".
"The election campaign and the 16 December presidential poll took place peacefully despite criticism," he said. "So we call on the Malagasy people to co-operate with us and not to accept being used by some people as a political tool."
The Madagascar Tribune feared "the country is on the verge of returning to square one," after reporting the death of a child from tear gas inhalation during a number of clashes which rocked the country.
"Are we slowly but surely heading for civil disobedience?" the Tribune asked.
The Midi Madagasikara paper said Ravalomanana had told his supporters he was determined to fight for what was right.
"I am a daring and courageous person," Ravalomanana said, adding that he did not "fear a second round".
President hits back
The president then used French TV to respond to the increasing protests.
Asked by La Chaine Info TV to comment on reports that up to 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Antananarivo on 9 January, Mr Ratsiraka said the number was of "little concern".
"It doesn't bother me much whether there are 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 or 100,000 people. The issue is a simple one for me: I am a sailor by profession, a politician by chance. I was called on when they needed me," he said.
"I am now at the end of my mandate. I stood again because I believe that my succession is not properly guaranteed. And believe me, it is a sacrifice that I am making for me and my family," he said.
The Madagascar Tribune said the interview "served no purpose in solving the current crisis. Instead, it revealed that the president was in some way panicking".
Midi Madagasikara complained journalists had not been "shown respect" during the demonstrations.
"Don't shoot at the reporters! The media has an essential role to play at the moment, during these times of pluralism and information. Journalists should be protected and respected," the paper said.
It went on to invite readers to spare a "special thought" for colleagues from state TV and radio, "forced by their superiors to say anything on the air in order to denigrate and play down the demonstrations".
BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.
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