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Malagasy army retakes ministries

A soldier descends from a truck near the office of the president in Antananarivo on 9 February 2009
The crisis on the world's fourth largest island has mauled the economy

Security forces in Madagascar's capital have fired in the air to disperse opposition protesters who seized four ministry buildings on Thursday.

Supporters of opposition leader Andry Rajoelina seized the offices to install parallel government ministers.

Mr Rajoelina, the city's sacked mayor, wants President Marc Ravalomanana to resign saying he is dictatorial.

About 100 people have been killed in political protests since the dispute between the men began last month.

The BBC's Christina Corbett in Antananarivo says security forces did not put up much of a fight when the opposition supporters seized the ministries and have been very restrained.

Losing momentum

The internal security minister said the government is now back in control of the interior, security, education and planning ministries in Antananarivo, Reuters news agency reports.

[Ravalomanana would] be quite right to be worried... He sees that people may be going over to the other side
Luke Freeman
University College London

"The ministries seized by the opposition have been retaken and the surrounding barriers removed. Civil servants can return to their posts," Desire Rasolofomanana was quoted as saying.

Police say they arrested 50 opposition supporters during the operation.

Our correspondent says the opposition seems to be losing momentum especially after failing to hold onto the seized ministries.

A Southern African Development Community (Sadc) delegation is in the country to mediate between the two sides.

Negotiations are going on between the president's representatives and members of the opposition.

Tension high

President Ravalomanana and Mr Rajoelina are yet to have face-to-face talks.

Andry Rajoelina at a rally in Antananarivo, 2 Feb
Andry Rajoelina had proclaimed himself in charge of national affairs

The opposition leader has backed himself into a corner so he is stuck in a very extreme position and it is difficult for him to step down and agree to talk to the president, our correspondent says.

Luke Freeman, from the University College London, told the BBC's Network Africa programme that President Ravalomanana's involvement in the church had reduced the church's credibility as a neutral intermediary.

President Ravalomanana is the vice-president of the United Protestant Church, the biggest and most influential church in Madagascar.

The church has historically played an important role in mediating in political standoffs in the country.

Mr Freeman said President Ravalomanana must control his ministries to maintain a hold on power.

"He'd be quite right to be worried. As the political tide is changing, he sees that people may be going over to the other side, maybe even some people in his ranks," he said.

Tension is high and businesses are struggling in the centre of the Antananarivo where daily opposition rallies are being held and people fear the situation could drag on for a while.

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SEE ALSO
Madagascar's 'militant mayor'
03 Feb 09 |  Africa
Country profile: Madagascar
28 Jan 09 |  Country profiles


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