Violence flares at Madagascar palace

Madagascan soldiers loyal to opposition leader Andry Rajoelina outside the presidential palace Monday.
Members of Madagascar’s military battled supporters of President Marc Ravalomanana outside the presidential palace Monday as the turmoil over whether he stays in office intensified.

An eyewitness who blogs from Madagascar, Stefan Armananarivo, told CNN he saw two tanks outside the presidential palace in Antananarivo, the country’s capital, and saw the military shoot at people in the crowd protecting the building. News reports from the scene gave similar descriptions and said the self-declared leader of the armed forces had announced his support for the opposition. Some supporters of the president lined up to try to block the military from taking over the palace. It was not immediately clear whether the military had taken over the palace. Reports said the embattled Ravalomanana was in a different palace at the time. At the U.S. embassy in Antananarivo, the head of security announced that explosions and gunshots had been heard at the palace, according to an embassy employee who asked not to be named for security reasons. The violence came as the African Union held an emergency meeting to discuss the power struggle gripping Madagascar. The AU said all members of its Peace and Security group would attend the meeting.

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Ravalomanana pledged Sunday that he would remain in office despite fierce opposition, and urged the country’s military not to intervene. “I am aware of the feelings of anxiety that you feel in the face of intentions to seize power by force,” Ravalomanana told a crowd gathered at the president’s palace Sunday in Lavoloha, according to a statement issued by his office. He pledged to “remain faithful to the people and never leave her alone.” An official with his office told CNN that the president said he would organize a referendum if that would help solve the crisis. The statement from Ravalomanana’s office quoted him as saying, “If we have to go through a referendum, I have nothing to fear even if this occurs.”

The president’s government has been at odds with opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, who recently was ousted from his position as mayor of Antananarivo. Rajoelina has called on Ravalomanana to quit. Poverty has been a major issue in Madagascar, boosting Rajoelina’s appeal to a segment of the population angered by the behavior of Ravalomanana, including his recent purchase of a private jet.