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Protesters Heed Strike Call from Madagascar's Presidential Candidate

In Madagascar, a general strike aimed at forcing the government from power is now in its second day. Hundreds of thousands of people are backing the strike.

The streets of the Madagascan capital, Antananarivo, were jammed Tuesday in support of presidential candidate Marc Ravalomanana's call for the government to resign.

The strike was so effective that shops, businesses and public transport were shut and the main airport was at a standstill.

Hundreds of thousands of Mr. Ravalomanana's supporters gathered in the capital's main square and then marched on the state television station, says Sammy Rasolo of the Madagascar Tribune.

He said, after the meeting, the crowd moved to the national television station. They wanted to make those who were inside come out and take part in the demonstration.

The demonstration ended after media officials agreed to broadcast an opposition statement later on Tuesday.

Mr. Ravalomanana, who is mayor of Antananarivo, has called on the army and the police to, as he says, swell the ranks of those who defend the ballot box.

He insists he won an outright victory in Madagascar's December presidential election against President Didier Ratsiraka and has refused to participate in a runoff election scheduled for February 24.

Mr. Rasolo of the Madagascar Tribune says the massive strike, the largest seen in Madagascar in years, is likely to continue if the Ratsiraka government does not back down.

Initially, he says, the strike was planned for three days. But if there is no positive reaction from the leaders, he says he thinks it will continue and will be prolonged.

President Ratsiraka has been in power for more than 20 years and is respected by many as the father of the nation. But for the demonstrators, that is no match for what Mr. Ravalomanana is offering. A self-made millionaire, he promised in his campaign to raise the living standards of all Madagascans.

Hundreds of thousands of Mr. Ravalomanana's supporters have been holding mostly peaceful demonstrations for the past three weeks demanding that he be installed as president.

Supporters of Mr. Ravalomanana hope the general strike, by paralyzing key sectors of the economy, will force the government to do what it has so far been unwilling to do, accept his claims to the presidency.

Madagascar, located off the coast of southeast Africa, is the fourth largest island in the world.