Madagascar Needs Outside Help to Avoid Bloodbath, Says Missionary

Violence Erupting in Wake of December Elections

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ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar, MARCH 13, 2002 ( The international community must intervene in Madagascar to avoid a bloodbath, say missionary sources in this island republic.

Father Cosimo Alvati, director of Radio Don Bosco, made his appeal through Catholic media, including the Italian newspaper Avvenire and Vatican Radio.

At least two people died today in confrontations between rival protesters in the city of Toamasina, on the east coast of Madagascar, where a cease-fire has been decreed, local sources reported.

Four people were wounded during an earlier protest organized in the city center, in front of the government headquarters, by partisans of self-proclaimed «President» Marc Ravalomanana, who confronted some 100 partisans of outgoing President Didier Ratsiraka.

Ravalomanana, mayor of Antananarivo, said that he won the first round of the presidential elections Dec. 16, and proclaimed himself president of Madagascar on Feb. 12. He rejected the official results that obliged him to participate in a second round against President Ratsiraka.

At the end of a visit to Madagascar, a mission of the Organization for African Unity recommended a new electoral consultation to end the crisis in this nation of 15.9 million people.

«This is a fundamental moment for Madagascar, and the international community must understand this,» Father Alvati said. «It must intervene now as this is the only way in which there can be a change of power without bloodshed, without violence.»

For the past two months the country has been paralyzed by strikes calling for Ratsiraka´s downfall.

«There is fear, especially in the provinces where people are more subject to the intimidations of Ratsiraka´s followers,» Father Alvati said. «Because of this, the international community must act and pronounce itself clearly. To date, only Paris has spoken, while the U.N. has appealed for respect for institutions.»

«However, Ratsiraka is isolated in Tamatave, his native city,» the priest continued. «Last Saturday Defense Minister Marcel Ranjeva resigned and his successor, Jules Mamizara — appointed by the new executive of Ravalomanana — has already met with 200 top officers who, with the exception of two cases, have pronounced themselves in favor of the new president.»

«A clear international pronouncement is important, also because Ratsiraka might not have any other way out than that of unleashing violence,» the Italian missionary concluded. «Let´s not forget that in 1991 he had shots fired into the crowd, which caused a massacre. This must not happen again.»

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