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Pressure on for Madagascar leader

Pro-Ravalomanana demonstrators in Antananarivo on 23 March 2009

By Christina Corbett
BBC News, Antananarivo

Supporters of Madagascar's former President Marc Ravalomanana are staging daily street protests - just one indication that Africa's youngest president has a tough road ahead of him.

Under the leafy jacaranda trees at Ambohijatovo Park in the capital Antananarivo a cheering crowd drowns out the sound of the chattering birds in the trees.

Another day, another demonstration in Madagascar's capital.

Just two weeks ago, the roads of central Antananarivo were full of supporters of Andry Rajoelina, demanding change.

If donors decide to stop all aid, Madagascar could face a big social and economic problem
Fanja Ratsimbazafy
Malagasy Red Cross

Now, that he has taken charge, his opponents have gone out on the streets.

These crowds are calmer and, without a former DJ as their leader, the music is far more subdued.

They include many members of Madagascar's emerging middle class. A contrast to the crowds attracted by Mr Rajoelina, which largely represented a support-base rooted in Antananarivo's poor urban residents.

"I'm here to show that I don't support the coup," says one lady, an English teacher.

"The new government spoke of democracy but they did not wait for elections. Why didn't they listen to the Malagasy people?"

Ancient animosity

She voices the concerns of many of the 4,000 people who have come to show their support for the former president.

Many of them say they are without political affiliation, but simply do not agree with what they see as the undemocratic way in which Mr Rajoelina has installed himself.

Andry Rajoelina in Antananarivo for his investiture as transitional president of Madagascar on 21 March 2009
Andry Rajoelina is said to be little known in the provinces

And this is only in Antananarivo, Mr Rajoelina's support power-base.

Outside the capital, support for the 34-year-old new leader is yet to be tested.

The former mayor of Antananarivo is little known in the provinces.

Analysts warn that his Antananarivo-based movement could ignite ancient animosity between coastal people and those that live in the capital, historically the base of political power in Madagascar.

"I don't think people in all the provinces are prepared to accept Rajoelina as president," says the head of a local non-governmental organisation, who asked to remain anonymous.

"Everything political happens here in Antananarivo, but the rest of the regions are often left behind."

Thousands of jobless

Just a few hundred metres away from the demonstration, Mr Rajoelina spends most of the day locked in meetings with his ministers at the presidential palace.

Security forces in Antananarivo on 17 March 2009
Observers say not all the military backs Andry Rajoelina

Outside, former palace employees who were unable to work after soldiers loyal to Mr Rajoelina stormed the presidential palace a week ago have been invited back.

And in a city where thousands have lost their jobs as a result of two months of political crisis, some of them were glad.

"It will be good to return to work," one lady, a cook, said. "It has been very difficult for us."

But getting the presidency's administrative staff back to work is a minor concern for Mr Rajoelina.

A much more pressing worry will be trying to maintain cohesion among his own supporters, particularly in the army.

"If Rajoelina loses the support of the elements of the armed forces that are backing him he will be left in a very fragile position," said one observer, an Antananarivo resident and businessman.

Many believe that not all of the military backs the new president.

Pressure mounting

In a recent statement circulated locally, officers and soldiers at an important army base just outside Antananarivo condemned what they call a coup d'etat, and demanded that Mr Rajoelina and the transitional government step down.

But recently appointed army chief Colonel Andre Ndriarijaona has denied rumours of divisions within the military.

A torn portrait of Marc Ravalomanana at the entrance of the Iavoloha presidential palace outside Antananarivo, Madagascar, on 18 March 2009
Marc Ravalomanana had been re-elected to a second term in 2006
Madagascar's new president has vowed to improve the lives of Malagasy people.

But international donor funds are dwindling as a result of foreign countries' widespread condemnation of his military-backed rise to power.

The United States, one of Madagascar's biggest donors, has cut all non-humanitarian aid to the country.

Norway has also cut the $14m (£9.6m) it gives annually.

People are beginning to ask how Mr Rajoelina - an orator known for making grand gestures - will deliver on his promises without these funds.

"In Madagascar as much as 70% of government spending comes from foreign donors and different aid organisations," said Fanja Ratsimbazafy, secretary general of the Malagasy Red Cross.

"If donors decide to stop all aid for Madagascar, the country could face a big social and economic problem.

We will come back here every day until the transitional government falls
Pro-Ravalomanana protester

"If the government cannot afford development programmes, the population could take to the streets again to demand more change."

Mr Rajoelina's supporters still believe that he represents the future for Madagascar.

"Today is a new life for the people of Madagascar.

"People can live freely now, and we can reach the goals of developing our country," said one man, speaking after the inauguration ceremony on Saturday.

The pressure on Africa's youngest president to deliver is mounting though.

"It all depends on Rajoelina now," says the head of one local non-governmental organisation.

"If he moves quickly to deliver on his promises to improve lives for people, maybe this will be over. But if he is too slow to do this, people will start to move against him."

And some people have already started to do so.

"We will come back here every day until the transitional government falls," said one man sitting on the grass at the demonstration in Ambohijatovo.

Mr Rajoelina spent three months pushing to become Madagascar's leader but having achieved his goal, he might well find life at the top is not all it is cracked up to be.



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