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Citizens in Madagascar React to New Government


Madagascar's newly installed President Andry Rajoelina held his first cabinet meeting and met with the diplomatic corps. It was all part of an attempt to ease the worries of a general population that is traumatized by months of civil unrest.

A group of people have gathered outside the burned-out shell of a department store in downtown Antananarivo. The store was looted during the violence that accompanied the confrontation between former president Marc Ravalomanana and the country's new leader, Andry Rajoelina.

Street vendor Frederic Rurofonandorasalla says he is happy that Mr. Rajoelina's group has prevailed because it gives him hope for a better life.

He says he is sorry people lost their belongings because of the looting during the crisis. We could have found another solution, he says. Now we have dead people on our conscience and it makes me unhappy.

The confrontation began in January after the former president shut down a radio station owned by Mr. Rajoelina.

Angry crowds subsequently sacked and looted business owned by Mr. Ravalomanana, one of the country's wealthiest citizens. More than 100 people were killed in the clashes before soldiers mutinied saying they would no longer take orders to shoot their own people.

Retired civil servant Jean-Paul Reiser says rising food prices and growing signs of corruption and authoritarianism by the former president were the main cause of the confrontation.

He wants the new government to give hope to the people, three-fourths of whom live on less than $2.00 per day. He says we need to live. The new leaders should support the unemployed, find them jobs. Because in all of Africa, we are very poor.

Remia Razafindrasda, a 17-year-old student trying to finish her last year of high school, says she was due to take her graduation exams [the "BAC"] this year, but because of the strikes she almost lost the entire school year. All we want, she says, is for calm to be restored for good so that we can pursue our studies.

Taxi-driver Jose Radaomanga is sitting with some colleagues by a line of taxis that stretches to the end of the block.

The unrest has severely affected his business. He says now he is lucky to have one fare a day. He says he does not care about Mr. Ravalomanana or Mr. Rajoelina. All he wants to do is to feed his family.

The new leaders say their transitional government will draft a new constitution and hold elections within two years. Mr. Rajoelina has also pledged to lower prices for basic food items and to free political prisoners.

Graduate student Andre Arthur hopes that the promised elections will be held and competent people will come to power.

He says previous political transitions in his country have often been violent and that is because people who attain power make promises, but do not deliver on them.

Nevertheless he says he remains optimistic about this government because otherwise nothing will change in Madagascar.

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