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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Force threat in Madagascar
Madagascar roadblock
Roadblocks have choked supply lines
The defence minister of newly-inaugurated President, Marc Ravalomanana, has warned military force will be used to break the blockades imposed on the capital by the country's long-standing leader.

Didier Ratsiraka denies that Mr Ravalomanana won controversial elections last December and insists he is still the rightful president.

His supporters, based in the port city of Tamatave have cut off supply lines to the capital, Antananarivo, Mr Ravalomanana's stronghold.

This has led to acute shortages in the capital and aid workers and businessmen warn that the situation could become critical if the blockades are not lifted within two weeks.

"I will order soldiers [loyal to Mr Ratsiraka] who are still manning these roadblocks to return to barracks, if they don't obey, we will remove the roadblocks by force," Defence Minister General Jules Mamizara told the French news agency, AFP.

Speaking after a meeting with Mr Ravalomanana, he gave those manning the blockades a week to back down.

"We will first attack those which block the road leading to Mahajanga and on the road leading south, to Toliara [a port city]," said the minister.

Recognition refused

Last month, Mr Ratsiraka refused to recognise a constitutional court ruling vindicating Mr Ravalomanana's claims of outright victory.

Mr Ravalomanana has been sworn in as president but his position has not been internationally recognised.

Governors loyal to Mr Ratsiraka in four of the country's six provinces have said they will secede from the capital if Mr Ravalomanana remains in power.

Marc Ravalomanana
Ravalomanana has been sworn in as president

"Within a fortnight, the situation will be critical in Antananarivo. That is why we are going to deal with the roadblock problem," said General Mamizara.

A roadblock in Brickaville, on the road to Tamatave, is one of the lynchpins of the blockade and is heavily guarded by pro-Ratsiraka forces.

"We now have enough men and arms to go into action," warned General Mamizara.

"We still want to avoid confrontation with our comrades but we are at the last stage of negotiations with them," he warned.

The BBC's Johnny Donovan in Antananarivo says that the entire para-military gendarmerie and most of the armed forces now support Mr Ravalomanana.

Heavy rain

Floods following days of torrential rain have complicated the situation, according to the Antananarivo newspaper L'Express de Madagascar.

"The heavy rains have left holes in the road's surface, bringing about numerous landslides and even washing away portions of the surface for metres at a stretch.

"In other words, with or without the Brickaville roadblock, the country's main road artery between the principal port and the capital will not be returning to use by heavy commercial vehicles soon," the paper said.

The floods killed at least 29 people in and around the port city of Tamatave, AFP reported, quoting officials.

Jonathan Donovan reporting for BBC Focus On Africa
"Almost the entire gendarmerie and most of the armed forces back action"
See also:

07 May 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
Chasing shadows in Madagascar
06 May 02 | Africa
Second coming in Madagascar
18 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar rivals sign peace deal
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