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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 05:35 GMT 06:35 UK
Madagascar's flawed accord
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By Alastair Leithead
BBC correspondent in Madagascar
It may sound like the perfect end to a four-month political crisis in Madagascar, but the deal signed by the two men who both consider themselves to be president of the Indian Ocean island may not be the neat solution the country desperately needs.

Some reports say they embraced, others that they shook hands, but that Marc Ravalomanana and Didier Ratsiraka met at all, never mind came up with a piece of paper they could both sign, owes as much to the seriousness of the situation as to the hard work of a small group of African leaders.

Marc Ravalomanana
Ravalomanana has done well out of the deal
The country's economy is in freefall - some say that for every day the crisis continues, the island's once promising economic growth is put back a month.

The capital, Antananarivo, is short of fuel, medicines and bread.

At least 35 people have been killed and many more injured, as the squabbling for power in the provinces is increasingly turning violent.

People are scared of civil war, but are still prepared to stand up for what they want - change.

Unanswered questions

But what of the deal done so many miles away in Senegal that appears to offer a solution to an incredibly complex crisis? There are scant details and plenty of question marks.

First, there will be a recount of the December presidential election after the country's Supreme Court this week rejected the High Constitutional Court's results - a body it says was unlawfully reshuffled just before the vote.

Didier Ratsiraka
Ratsiraka may be able to retire gracefully

That is what the people have been demanding, ever since hundreds of thousands of them took to the streets of Antananarivo in January.

They have their "confrontation", but how can anyone on either side trust a recount, months after an election, amid claims of fraud and ballot rigging?

So if the new result is inconclusive, it goes to a referendum "in which the people will choose between the two candidates".

This is what Marc Ravalomanana has said he is prepared to do to legitimise power.

And in the six months it might take, he will be the second highest state official, run the council that runs the government of national reconciliation and choose the interior and finance ministers.

He has done very well out of the deal, but will not be able to call himself president anymore - something his supporters had become accustomed to doing.

And what about his newly appointed government ministers?

Promises, promises

Then there are the blockades which are isolating Antananarivo. Didier Ratsiraka's supporters have been starving the city for months and it has been a very successful policy.

From his enclave in the port town of Tamatave, this would appear to be his last big bargaining chip; it seems unlikely he would just throw it away, especially as Mr Ravalomanana has shored up support in a second province, Fianarantsoa.

And anyway, do the two leaders still have the power necessary to stop the violence and the assassinations, or is the chaos the situation has created now in charge?

Few doubt that Mr Ratsiraka is finished - this deal could offer him a graceful way to retire.

The plan has some good ideas and times are hard for Malagasy people - they may welcome it as the best way to resolve the crisis.

But nothing is ever simple in Madagascar - the Dakar accord is a series of promises, without the nitty-gritty of how they will be kept.

It has the best hope - perhaps the only hope - for a country desperately in need of something to be optimistic about, but there is still a very long way to go before this crisis is over.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead
" He (Marc Ravalomanana) now controls two of the countries six provinces"
See also:

18 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar rivals sign peace deal
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