Madagascan opposition leader to boycott talks

Madagascar opposition leader Andry Rajoelina announced that he will boycott crisis talks due to begin Thursday, despite the army's 72-hour ultimatum to resolve a political crisis that has killed more than 100 people since the start of the year. Madagascar's army chief was fired and replaced shorlty afterwards, military sources said.

Speaking on France 24 this morning, Rajoelina's spokesperson explained that Rajoelina does not see the army's ultimatum as a threatened coup but rather as an "act of responsibility", implying that the former mayor may not oppose a scenario in which the army would wrest control from current President Marc Ravalomanana, who appears increasingly isolated.

"Large parts of the army no longer answer to the president (...) and it's not clear whether he has any loyal security forces left", explains France 24's special correspondent in Antananarivo, Cyril Vanier. "Many soldiers consider the president to be profiteering, and resent the fact that they have had to shoot anti-government protesters in the past weeks", he adds.

During the weekend, soldiers at a key army base near the capital warned they would refuse any further orders to act against the almost-daily demonstrations, but denied their decision amounted to munity.

Neither is the army openly supporting Rajoelina. "We promise to remain neutral. We implore all political players, civil society organisations and other parties to reunite immediately to find a solution within the next 72 hours to help the nation out of the current crisis," General Edmond Rasolomahandry, the army's chief of staff, told reporters yesterday. "If a solution is not found after the 72 hours, then we, the armed forces, we will take responsibility for running national affairs and protect the national interest and unity."

Rajoelina's announcement that he will boycutt crisis talks, due to begin tomorrow, made the possibility of a military takeover of the island seem all the more real.

"The balance of power can shift very rapidly," making it very difficult to predict the outcome of the crisis, explains Vanier, adding that given the president's increasing isolation, the situation currently seems to be shifting in favour of his adversary.

Rajoelina, who fears arrest, is currently in hiding in an unspecified foreign embassy, his spokesperson told France 24.

From France 24