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Madagascar General Strike in Third Day - 2002-01-30


A general strike in Madagascar aimed at forcing the government from power is now in its third day. Opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana is vowing to continue with the strike until he is declared president.

Again on Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters filled the main square in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo, to protest the alleged rigging of December's presidential election.

Banks, shops and the main airport stayed closed for the third day. Almost 1,000 air passengers were stranded by the strike.

Addressing the crowd, presidential candidate Marc Ravalomanana said he will never agree to stand in a run-off election scheduled for February 24 and will continue with the protests until he wins power.

The self-made millionaire, who is also mayor of Antananarivo, insists he won an outright victory in Madagascar's December presidential election against President Didier Ratsiraka.

Little has been heard in recent days from President Ratsiraka, a former admiral who first won power more than 20 years ago and is seen by many as a father of the nation.

Mr. Ravalomanana is coming under pressure from the international community to accept the results of last month's presidential election. The Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity, Amara Essy, expressed concern about the divisions the political turmoil is creating. Mr. Essy said he is planning to visit Madagascar in the next few days.

The U.N. Security Council expressed concern over the unrest and called on both candidates to comply with all constitutional, electoral and legal requirements in a second round election.

However, a defiant Mr. Ravalomanana told his supporters Wednesday, "I am not afraid of the pressure and threats from outside."

Mr. Ravalomanana believes he has the popular support to force the government's hand. The key sectors of the economy are already under our control, he told the crowd. The general strike will only end when the truth of the ballot boxes becomes entirely clear, he said.

The arrival of television crews from the state broadcaster marks one small victory for Mr. Ravalomanana. It is the first time in weeks of daily demonstration that the state media has covered opposition events.

The broadcasters' change of heart comes after Mr. Ravalomanana's supporters surrounded the national television station Tuesday, demanding equal air time.

Popular protests have succeeded in Madagascar in the past. President Ratsiraka was forced out of office by strikes and public protests in 1991, only to be re-elected in 1996.

Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island, lies in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Mozambique.

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