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Madagascar President to Hold Talks with Opposition Over Escalating Tension 

Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana is expected to hold talks with the opposition Wednesday in an attempt to resolve ongoing protests in the capital, Antananarivo that have left at least two people dead. This comes after President Ravalomanana called for national unity Tuesday, a day after he described protesters' demand for a change in government as disloyal. The opposition had called for the change in government after President Ravalomanana closed an independent radio station for broadcasting an interview with former President Didier Ratsiraka. Jean Michele Wachsderger is a professor of Sociology at the University of Lille, France. He tells reporter Peter Clottey Madagascans do not want their freedom of expression suppressed.

"I think the situation is critical, but I think perhaps the two opponents can find a solution because they are in the process of having a meeting today (Wednesday). For me the problem is that President Marc Ravalomanana has for two years closed many kinds of media that last one was Viva the television of Andry Rajoelina, who is the mayor of Antananarivo," Wachsderger noted.

He said there is hope that Wednesday's meeting between the government and the opposition would help resolve the political impasse.

"I think they can resolve it because the mayor of Antananarivo has decided to hold discussions with the president and the president has said he was ready to hold discussions with him. So, I think they can find a solution," he said.

Wachsderger said President Ravalomanana ordered the closure of the independent radio station because he was not too enthused about the station's broadcast interview with exiled former President Didier Ratsiraka.

"Yes, that is the explanation given by the president. But you know this interview with Didier Ratsiraka was broadcast in other media outlets too and the only one, which was closed, was that of the mayor of Antananarivo. And that is inexcusable because Andry Rajoelina is a strong opponent in Madagascar," Wachsderger pointed out.

He said some Madagascans feel let down after reposing great confidence in President Ravalomanana's promise to alleviate their suffering.

"I think many people are disillusioned, they were expecting too much from the president. We made a survey, which is called Afro barometer survey in May 2008, and we can see in the survey that many people keep their confidence high to the president," he said.

Wachsderger said some are also of the opinion that their freedom of expression is being undermined by the president's order to close the independent station.

"Now, in the capital people know that the wealth of the country is not going to everybody and they would like to have the freedom to express their opinions to be heard. Perhaps it is their opportunity to express their opinion," Wachsderger noted.

Ravalomanana urged the international community to help with Wednesday's negotiations to resolve the ongoing political impasse with the opposition. But the opposition leader ruled out negotiations with the government until the perpetrators behind the people killed are apprehended and dealt with by the authorities.

The escalating tensions over the weekend forced President Ravalomanana who had been due to attend a regional summit beginning Monday in Pretoria, flew back on Sunday night and accused the mayor of Antananarivo of calling for a revolt.

Antananarivo Mayor Andry Rajoelina ran against Ravalomanana's party and won as an independent candidate in the 2007 municipal elections. He has grown into the regime's most vocal opponent after coming into office. Rajoelina often condemned what he described as shrinking freedoms in the country and also fiercely criticized what he has called a massive project to lease vast swathes of farmland to South Korean industrial giant Daewoo.

Meanwhile, the African Union said Tuesday it is closely monitoring the situation in Madascar, describing it as problematic. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is also reported to be closely monitoring events in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo.