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Thousands Protest Against Madagascar Election Results - 2002-02-06


Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Madagascar to protest the results of December's presidential election. Even the president's own foreign minister is calling for dialogue between the two sides to try to bring an end to the standoff.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank say the general strike will permanently damage Madagascar's economy if it continues much longer.

The two organizations say the strike is costing the country $12-14 million a day. They say several key businesses may shut down their operations here it does not end soon.

Hafez Ghanem heads the World Bank office in Madagascar. He says the costs per day are still rising as the strike continues.

"It is quite bad and getting worse.... In financial terms, the cost is $12 to $14 million a day. That amounts to the whole public education budget of this country for a whole year, in 10 days," he explains. "Ten days of this wipes out the entire education budget. ... In the next two weeks, 50,000 jobs [are] at risk."

World Bank and the IMF officials say some industries are directly affected by the strike. The banking sector is basically shut down, and many textile businesses cannot fill their orders. The state airline, Air Madagascar, lost roughly $600,000 last week alone.

Other industries are indirectly affected, especially by the shutdown of the airport, which has only opened occasionally since the strike began. With no air traffic to the island nation, businesses cannot get supplies they need to stay afloat.

But for now at least, the strike and the massive protests continue.

The crowd Wednesday was smaller than the huge numbers that turned out for Monday's protest. But the demonstration still filled up the main thoroughfare. Independence Avenue, bringing the capital to a standstill.

The protesters took a day off Tuesday after opposition presidential candidate Marc Ravalomanana called for a stay-at-home strike that literally shut the city down.

Mr. Ravalomanana won 46 percent of the vote in December's presidential election, according to official results. Current President Didier Ratsiraka came in second with 40 percent. The high court has refused to declare a winner since neither man took more than 50 percent; and a second round of elections is scheduled later this month.

But Mr. Ravalomanana claims the vote was rigged. He says he actually won 52 percent, and that no second round of voting should be necessary. He told his followers to go on strike and take to the streets. Massive, peaceful protests have disrupted life in the capital, Antananarivo, for the last week-and-a-half.

Madagascar's minister of foreign affairs, Lila Ratsifandrihamanana, is calling on the two candidates to resolve their dispute quickly and peacefully.

"The situation is already difficult. There is a crisis and we are aware of this social crisis because there is the will of the population, the need of the population," she says. " We can't ignore this situation. That's why I think the most important [thing] at this time is the dialogue between the two parts."

Despite her job as foreign minister, Ms. Ratsifandrihhamanana is not a member of President RatsTens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Madagascar to protest the results of December's presidential election. Even the president's own foreign minister is calling for dialogue between the two sides to try to bring an end to the standoff.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank say the general strike will permanently damage Madagascar's economy if it continues much longer.

The two organizations say the strike is costing the country $12 million to $14 million a day. They say several key businesses may shut down their operations here it does not end soon.

Hafez Ghanem heads the World Bank office in Madagascar. He says the costs per day are still rising as the strike continues.

"It is quite bad and getting worse.... In financial terms, the cost is $12 to $14 million a day. That amounts to the whole public education budget of this country for a whole year, in 10 days.," he explains. "So after ten days, 10 days of this wipes out the entire education budget. There are 50,000, in the next two weeks, 50,000 jobs at risk."

World Bank and the IMF officials say some industries are directly affected by the strike. The banking sector is basically shut down, and many textile businesses cannot fill their orders. The state airline, Air Madagascar, lost roughly $600,000 last week alone.

Other industries are indirectly affected, especially by the shutdown of the airport, which has only opened occasionally since the strike began. With no air traffic to the island nation, businesses cannot get supplies they need to stay afloat.

But for now at least, the strike and the massive protests continue.

The crowd Wednesday was smaller than the huge numbers that turned out for Monday's protest. But the demonstration still filled up the main thoroughfare. Independence Avenue, bringing the capital to a standstill.

The protesters took a day off Tuesday after opposition presidential candidate Marc Ravalomanana called for a stay-at-home strike that literally shut the city down.

Mr. Ravalomanana won 46 percent of the vote in December's presidential election, according to official results. Current President Didier Ratsiraka came in second with 40 percent. The high court has refused to declare a winner since neither man took more than 50 percent; and a second round of elections is scheduled later this month.

But Mr. Ravalomanana claims the vote was rigged. He says he actually won 52 percent, and that no second round of voting should be necessary. He told his followers to go on strike and take to the streets. Massive, peaceful protests have disrupted life in the capital, Antananarivo, for the last week-and-a-half.

Madagascar's minister of foreign affairs, Lila Ratsifandrihamanana, is calling on the two candidates to resolve their dispute quickly and peacefully.

"The situation is already difficult. There is a crisis and we are aware of this social crisis because there is the will of the population, the need of the population," she says. "We can't ignore this situation. That's why I think the most important [thing] at this time is the dialogue between the two parts."

Despite her job as foreign minister, Ms. Ratsifandrihhamanana is not a member of President Ratsiraka's ruling party. She says she cannot speak for the president about this situation. She speaks on behalf of her party and herself.

"We need dialogue between two parts that's why we ask from abroad the international community to come here to see what exactly happened what is the situation in the country, and to find with us the solution of this crisis," she says.

Mr. Ravalomanana has also been calling on the international community for help, in resolving the crisis. He has asked a delegation of European officials to conduct an independent audit of the first round of voting. Only if they verify that the results are genuine will he call off the protests and agree to a second round.

President Ratsiraka has been keeping a very low profile. He has not spoken to the press recently. But two senior government officials say the second round will go ahead as scheduled, and there is little chance of another examination of the first-round. So there appears to be no end to the standoff in sight. iraka's ruling party. She says she cannot speak for the president about this situation. She speaks on behalf of her party and herself.

"We need dialogue between two parts that's why we ask from abroad the international community to come here to see what exactly happened what is the situation in the country, and to find with us the solution of this crisis," she says.

Mr. Ravalomanana has also been calling on the international community for help, in resolving the crisis. He has asked a delegation of European officials to conduct an independent audit of the first round of voting. Only if they verify that the results are genuine will he call off the protests and agree to a second round.

President Ratsiraka has been keeping a very low profile. He has not spoken to the press recently. But two senior government officials say the second round will go ahead as scheduled, and there is little chance of another examination of the first round. So there appears to be no end to the standoff in sight.

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