By Richard Lough
PORT LOUIS, March 9 (Reuters) - Madagascar has been in turmoil since the start of the year when opposition leader Andry Rajoelina began protests against President Marc Ravalomanana.
Below are some questions and answers on the crisis:
WHAT’S THE LATEST?
* Rajoelina, who accuses Ravalomanana of being a dictator, quit his house over the weekend. But a close aide told Reuters the opposition leader was still in the capital Antananarivo, rejecting rumours he had left the city or even fled the country.
* Meanwhile, a mutiny has broken out at the Malagasy army’s Camp Capsat. It is not possible immediately to assess the extent of the rebellion, but one colonel said on Monday that 75 percent of the military was backing the dissidents. The government has vowed to take action, without specifying what. [ID:L9011653]
* Negotiations between the two men have stalled, with neither protagonist attending. A U.N. mediator, Mali’s former foreign minister Tiebile Drame, is trying to revive the talks.
* The opposition has said it will resume anti-government protests this week after the security forces fired tear gas last week to disperse crowds of demonstrators.
WHO ARE THE MAJOR PLAYERS?
* President Marc Ravalomanana, 59, is a self-made millionaire who founded his business empire hawking yoghurt off the back of a bicycle in Antananarivo’s backstreets.
* He first came to power in 2002 after disputed election results triggered eight months of nationwide civil unrest which brought Madagascar’s economy to its knees. The incumbent, Didier Ratsiraka, fled into exile in France.
* Many Malagasy say Ravalomanana has since appeared to lose touch with the majority of the island’s 20 million people.
* Andry Rajoelina, 34, has accused Ravalomanana of misspending public funds and repeatedly demanded he step down.
* To his supporters, Rajoelina represents a youthful and charismatic new breed of politician on the world’s fourth largest island. But his critics accuse the former disc jockey and sacked mayor of the capital of being a maverick.
* Rumours have persisted that he is a front man for more seasoned opposition figures. But Rajoelina dismisses that and says he is only acting on the people’s call for change.
HOW DID THIS START?
* Political tensions started rising in December after the government closed down Rajoelina’s privately-owned TV station, Viva. It aired an interview with former president Ratsiraka.
* Rajoelina said the closure was a violation of free speech and accused Ravalomanana of abusing Madagascar’s democracy.
* A strong groundswell of resentment towards Ravalomanana already existed after he bought a new $60 million jet last year — while 70 percent of locals live on less than $2 a day.
* Dissatisfaction mounted when South Korean industrial giant Daewoo said it would lease 1.3 million hectares of prime land to meet its own food security needs. Rajoelina was a lead critic.
* Since the opposition leader launched a campaign of strikes and protests in late January, about 135 people have been killed.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THE ECONOMY?
* The violence has delivered a hefty blow to the $390 million tourism sector. Private operators reported close to 100 percent cancellation rates for early 2009 and warn the entire year will be a write-off if there is no political solution soon.
* Madagascar’s major foreign investors — which include Total, Rio Tinto and Sherritt International — have remained tight-lipped over their concerns. One mining source said the trouble seemed localised enough to avoid significant worry.
* Madagascar has enjoyed steady growth in recent years thanks to booming oil and mineral sectors. Companies are looking to extract cobalt, nickel, gold, uranium, coal and ilmenite.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
* Few dare to predict how the crisis will play out on the perennially unstable island. At one end of the scale of options, Ravalomanana could fall to a popular uprising, while at the other Rajoelina could be locked up.
* In between that, a protracted crisis could drag on for months, or even all the way to the next election due in 2011.
* Some analysts have proposed setting up a coalition government for Madagascar, similar to the ones recently formed in Kenya and Zimbabwe. But Rajoelina has told Reuters he would never serve as Ravalomanana’s prime minister [ID:nL1523760]
* U.N. special envoy Haile Menkerios has said a negotiated settlement would mean that both sides had to compromise.
* There are fears the mutiny in the military could spread quickly if it reaches the lower ranks.
* The army’s stance is seen as pivotal. Madagascar has a politically volatile history, but the armed forces have earned a reputation for neutrality. If they back Rajoelina, Ravalomanana will be left exposed as his political support base erodes. (For factboxes on Madagascar please click [ID:nL799617] and [ID:nLR162452]) (Editing by Daniel Wallis)