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Long way to get out of political crisis in Madagascar
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By Zhou Yu, Bai Jingshan

Madagascan political rivals, President Marc Ravalomanana and opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, have not yet reached any agreement in their negotiations on how to end the political crisis facing the country.

The negotiations between the rival parties began on Saturday. Unlike their first meeting since the start of the current political crisis in December, no official statement was issued on Monday and Tuesday from both sides after their talks.

The negotiations were sponsored and organized by the influential Christian Council of Churches in Madagascar. Declining to give details about their meetings, Council President Odon Razanakolona told the media on Monday that "a big step" was pushed forward at the second round of the meeting between the major politicians of the Indian Ocean island country.

In a sharp contrast with their first meeting on Saturday, the second and third meetings have just shown difficulties in reaching any agreement on their dispute.

Rajoelina, a former mayor of the capital city, has insisted on the resignation of President Ravalomanana and his government while Ravalomanana, keeping in mind of the scheduled African Union Summit in the coming July, is eager to solve the domestic conflicts as early as possible.

President Ravalomanana reminded the opposition of the respect of the constitution as well as the legality of his presidency and government which came to power in 2002 after a national election at the end of 2001.

The opposition claimed that president Ravalomanana, described as a dictator by Rajoelina, should resign due to his violation of the constitution.

At a mass gathering held here early this month, Rajoelina, 34, proclaimed himself president of the country, announced the establishment of a transitional government and appointed ministers.

As the stalemate continued, a bloody conflict took place shortly then when Rajoelina and his supporters marched to the presidential palace to take over the presidential power on Feb. 7.

The troops guarding the palace were ordered to open fire at the anti-government demonstrators when they tried to force into the palace, killing dozens of Rajoelina's supporters and injuring many others.

The opposition also accused the president of controlling the national crucial economy by his private business under Tiko, a cooperation run by Ravalomanana even before he came to power in 2002.

Under the constitution, which stipulates that all candidates for the office of president must be at least 40 year old, Rajoelina is not qualified to be a candidate for any presidential election due to the limitation of age.

However, it is impossible for Rajoelina and his opposition camp to compromise, at least now, on the transitional government.

Odon Razanakolona said on Monday that the talk might last a long process before realizing a peaceful solution to get out of the current political crisis.

What is worrying is that the opposition may return to street anti-government demonstrations at any time if the talk are broken down or suspended.

Experiences in other African countries indicate that negotiations as such might sustain for weeks, even months, before a final solution is found.

For the outside world and even for the politicians here, it is a big question mark whether the scheduled African Union Summit could be held on time although Madagascar has promised to make efforts to hold the summit as planned.

Taking the summit meeting as a national pride, Ravalomanana, on several occasions, urged the opposition to concentrate on the African summit rather than continuing street anti-government demonstrations.

Anyhow, the start of talks between President Ravalomanana and opposition leader Rajoelina has brought a slight hope of a peaceful solution to the political crisis on the world's fourth largest island.

(Xinhua News Agency February 25, 2009)

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