February 28, 2009 / 2:43 PM / 11 years ago

Madagascar opposition calls for more protests

ANTANANARIVO, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Madagascar’s opposition leader called on Saturday for daily street protests until the president steps down, just a day after the United Nations said both men had agreed to more talks.

A power struggle between the sacked mayor of the capital, Andry Rajoelina, and President Marc Ravalomanana has caused weeks of civil unrest, killing about 125 people and devastating the Indian Ocean island’s $390 million tourism sector.

“From Monday, we will not stop (demonstrating) until we end this dictatorship,” Rajoelina, a 34-year-old former disc jockey, told about 10,000 opposition supporters gathered in central Antananarivo, many of them clad in orange hats and T-shirts.

“We will keep coming to the 13 May Plaza whatever happens.”

Rajoelina did not mention the prospect of further negotiations with his rival. He called on the army, which has so far remained neutral, to “join sides with the majority”.

Anti-government demonstrators had blocked roads around the city square with rocks, but the crowd later dispersed peacefully. Businesses in the area remained locked behind metal shutters, fearful of fresh violence and looting.

Two weeks ago, the security forces opened fire on opposition supporters in the capital as they marched on the presidential palace, killing 28 people and wounding scores.

CRISIS TALKS

Saturday’s rally just came a day after U.N. envoy Haile Menkerios said Madagascar’s feuding leaders had assured him they remained committed to talks to resolve the crisis.

Rajoelina, who has tapped into deep public bitterness at the government’s failure to fight poverty, has repeatedly accused Ravalomanana of being a dictator. The opposition leader has also named his own parallel administration.

Ravalomanana, a self-made millionaire, has presided over an era of sustained economic growth since he came to power in 2002, and has opened Madagascar’s doors to foreign multinationals looking to exploit the giant island’s oil and mineral riches.

They include Rio Tinto and Sherritt International which expect to mine cobalt, nickel and ilmenite.

Frustrated by scraping a living in the capital, many Antananarivo residents have become increasingly resentful of the president’s lavish lifestyle. But the worst unrest for years is scaring off tourists and hammering the economy.

“We have lost 90 percent of our trade,” Michelle, the owner of a city centre restaurant, told Reuters. (For factboxes on Madagascar please click [ID:nL799617] and [ID:nLR162452]) (Additional reporting by Alain Iloniaina; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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