ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Madagascar’s opposition leader Andry Rajoelina told thousands of his supporters in the capital on Saturday he was giving President Marc Ravalomanana four hours to resign.
Below are some questions and answers on the crisis:
WHAT’S THE LATEST?
* Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina emerged from hiding on Saturday to tell his supporters he was giving President Marc Ravalomanana four hours to step down. Rajoelina has been under U.N. protection since fleeing attempts to arrest him last week.
* Aide to presidency says opposition members are inside the prime minister’s office but they have no legal power.
* The leader of a mutiny in the army has assumed the role of chief of staff, ousting the country’s top general.
* Dissident soldiers said they deployed tanks in the capital on Friday and that they would use them to fight any mercenaries hired in the power struggle. The president’s office denied it had called on foreign mercenaries to attack the army.
* The U.S. Embassy is encouraging American diplomats and citizens to leave the Indian Ocean island.
WHO ARE THE MAJOR PLAYERS?
* President Ravalomanana, 59, is a self-made millionaire who founded a business empire after starting out by 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.
* Rumors 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 toward 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-a-year 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 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.
* 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 localized enough to avoid significant worry for their operations, which are well outside the capital.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
* Few dare to predict how the crisis will play out on the traditionally volatile 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.
* 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.
* 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
Editing by Daniel Wallis and Alison Williams
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