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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 22:51 GMT 23:51 UK
Bridge attack raises Madagascar fears
Vehicle burns in Antananarivo in February
Observers fear the split may lead to partition
Fears of fresh violence have risen in Madagascar after another key bridge was blown up on Tuesday and a northern province declared independence.

The island has been split between supporters of incumbent President Didier Ratsiraka and the man who declared himself president after elections in December, Marc Ravalomanana.

Mr Ratsiraka rejects the results of the 16 December election, reconfirmed by a court this week, which give Mr Ravalomanana an outright majority.

Man injured by machete in February violence
The country is close to a new spiral of violence
The attack on the bridge came as the Organisation of African Unity warned that the island risked sinking into further violence, and even partition, if a referendum was not held to choose between the island's two rival rulers.

Unidentified saboteurs blew up the Andrainomaitso bridge, destroying a vital road link between the island state's capital Antananarivo - controlled by Mr Ravalomanana - and the south-eastern coast.

Supporters of Mr Ratsiraka had already destroyed four bridges on supply routes into the capital since Mr Ravalomanana declared himself president in February.

They have also mounted roadblocks in an attempt to starve the capital of vital goods.

After Tuesday's blast, only four-wheel-drive vehicles and light lorries will be able to use the south-eastern route, crossing a river ford, a police source said.

Split widens

The Organisation of African Unity has intervened in the crisis, proposing a referendum on the two rival leaders.

"The only way to avoid violence and partition in a country which has done very well economically is to hold a referendum," said OAU Secretary General Amara Essy.

Didier Ratsiraka
Ratsiraka has moved his cabinet to his home town of Tamatave
But the governor of the wealthy northern province of Antsirana, Jean-Robert Gara, declared the province a "sovereign state, independent in the confederation of Madagascar" on Tuesday.

Mr Gara, a follower of President Ratsiraka, called for Madagascar to be reorganised into a confederation of self-governing states.

The BBC's Alistair Leithead reports from Madagascar that four out of the six regional governors plan to form the confederation, which will be loyal to President Ratsiraka and independent of Antananarivo.

The split this would cause in the country is the most serious concern for the international community as it has the potential to create violent clashes or even begin a civil war, our correspondent says.

About 35 people have died in violence since the political dispute began and the economy of the island has been crippled.


Meanwhile, Marc Ravalomanana plans to be inaugurated a second time in Antananarivo on Friday.

Marc Ravalomanana at his February inauguration
Ravalomanana will be inaugurated for a second time
On Monday, the High Constitutional Court ruled that he had won the election against veteran leader Didier Ratsiraka, following a recount of the ballots.

The votes were re-examined as part of a deal to resolve the crisis.

According to the court, Mr Ravalomanana received 51.46% of the vote and Mr Ratsiraka - 35.9%.

The announcement of Mr Ravalomanana's election was greeted by huge celebrations on the streets of Antananarivo, where he has his power-base.

See also:

26 Apr 02 | Africa
Split threat in Madagascar
23 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar governors stand firm
22 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar recount begins
18 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar rivals sign peace deal
17 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar court annuls election
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