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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 14:43 GMT
Eyewitness: Mob rule in Madagascar
Antananarivo mob
Ministeries were stormed as the army stood by watching
test hello test
By Alastair Leithead in Antananarivo

After weeks of peaceful protests, violence is now on the streets of Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.

The carnival-like atmosphere which has been the most amazing characteristic of the mass protests in the city over the past few weeks disappeared in a moment as mob rule took over.

Glass-framed pictures of President Didier Ratsiraka... smashed as they hit the ground below.

It was the arrival of incumbent president Didier Ratsiraka's supporters in a city which is a stronghold of self-proclaimed president Marc Ravalomanana, which pushed the crowd over the edge.

There were perhaps only 200 of them, but they marched headlong into the thousands of people on their daily demonstration in support of Mr Ravalomanana.

Man with head wound
One man was stoned from close range

Bricks and stones were hurled, a lorry was overturned and set on fire and the Ratsiraka supporters were chased away.

One man - picked out as being pro-Ratsiraka - had a deep machete cut in his head and was badly beaten.

As he was helped away for treatment the crowd turned on him - he was thrown to the ground and stoned from close range.

I do not know whether or not he survived.

Smashing time

Then the crowd of pro-Ravalomanana supporters turned their attention to the government ministry buildings surrounding Lake Anosy in Antananarivo where they had gathered.

army on standby
The army kept their distance
They surged forward smashing the doors and windows of the various ministry buildings.

From the outside you could hear doors being broken down and then a gang emerged on a balcony above the cheering crowd, symbolically hurling glass-framed pictures of President Didier Ratsiraka from the first floor, which smashed as they hit the ground below.

The crowd moved as one, with people running one way and then another - many of them armed with sticks and tree branches, or clutching bricks and rocks as crude weapons.

It was incredibly tense, and then the military arrived.

Nuns intervene

At first people ran away and then they confronted the soldiers - but they backed down.

A truck was overturned and burnt

The army took a low profile position away from the rioting, thankfully not acting when the atmosphere was so tense.

The armed soldiers outside the ministries just let the rioters get on with breaking in - they were outnumbered and didn't appear to have the will for any confrontation.

As the smashing of glass and mob violence went on, there was a bizarre scene as a group of nuns lined up in front of the threatened buildings, singing hymns to try and calm the crowd.

Despite the aggression, this appeared to work as the rioting started to fizzle out.

The mob then headed up the largest hill overlooking the city and set fire to a radio station widely known as being the most pro-Ratsiraka.

The tension which has been bubbling under the surface has finally erupted into violence - the situation in this Indian Ocean island has taken a serious turn for the worse.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead
"The military are keeping a low profile"
See also:

27 Feb 02 | Africa
Riots rock Madagascar
26 Feb 02 | Africa
Rival Madagascar premier named
25 Feb 02 | Africa
Violence flares in Madagascar
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