Page last updated at 20:19 GMT, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Q&A: Madagascar in crisis

Riot policehold back opposition supporters

Madagascar's opposition leader, Andry Rajoelina, has set about making himself head of state with the backing of the country's highest court and its new military leaders, following the resignation of President Marc Ravalomanana.

His struggle with the president triggered turmoil that sparked several months of violent protests, looting and a mutiny, leaving at least 100 people dead on this Indian Ocean island.

While the final days of the crisis were relatively bloodless, Mr Rajoelina and his allies have been effectively accused of taking power through a coup, forcing out a president democratically re-elected in 2006.

So what was the dispute all about?

After Mr Rajoelina was elected in December 2007 as mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, he tried to use this power base to propel himself to the country's top job.

It was the same career trajectory as Mr Ravalomanana's, except that Mr Rajoelina has never stood for election to national office.

The former government sacked Mr Rajoelina from his job at city hall in February.

Mr Rajoelina accused the president of being a tyrant who misspent public money.

Mr Ravalomanana accused the opposition of using "terror and repression" to dislodge him.

Why the army mutiny?

There had been increasingly impatient calls in recent weeks from leaders within Madagascar's military for the political rivals to resolve the crisis.

The army's support for President Ravalomanana had begun to waver in February after security forces opened fire and killed about 28 pro-Rajoelina demonstrators in the capital.

In March, a faction of the army mutinied and its leader named himself chief-of-staff, ousting the country's top general.

Then the military police - the gendarmes - said they would no longer take orders from the government.

Was it a coup?

After pro-opposition troops seized the president's office in the centre of Antananarivo and the central bank, Mr Ravalomanana seemed to have little option but to step down.

With the army taking direct action against the elected head of state, it certainly looks like a coup.

As the soldiers stormed the presidential office, the African Union condemned the "attempted coup d'etat".

Mr Rajoelina declared himself head of state.

Why the popular discontent with President Ravalomanana?

Under President Ravalomanana, the country took its first tentative steps into the global market after decades of socialism.

Wounded man being carried after unrest
Madagascar is not used to such outbreaks of violence
Multinational corporations including Rio Tinto and Exxon Mobil arrived, pouring millions of dollars into government coffers.

The president himself saw his own business interests - which range from dairy products to cooking oil - rise and rise.

But food and fuel became more expensive, while the foreign funds did not improve the quality of life for most people.

Some 70% of Madagascar's 20 million population live on less than $1 a day, and the opposition tapped into growing resentment.

The final straw for many was a plan to lease one million acres in the south of the country to the Korean firm Daewoo for intensive farming.

Malagasy people have deep ties to their land and this was seen by many as a betrayal by their president.

Who is Andry Rajoelina?

Mr Rajoelina is a baby-faced 34-year-old former DJ and businessman with media interests, including ownership of a TV and radio station.

Under the existing constitution, he is six years too young to stand in a presidential election.

Nonetheless, he aims to be sworn in as president.

He has not gone into much detail about what he would do differently to Mr Ravalomanana.

Some say Mr Rajoelina is being supported by political heavyweights from the country's past - allies of long-time leader Didier Ratsiraka, who lost an equally bitter and divisive power struggle with Mr Ravalomanana in 2002, following disputed elections.

What happens next?

For the moment, it seems as though Mr Rajoelina holds all the cards.

He has said he will hold elections within 24 months - and change the constitution.

The African Union may well suspend Madagascar's membership until elections are held.

It remains to be seen whether Western donors will cut off aid.

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