Madagascar security forces fire tear gas on opposition candidatesMon, 02 Oct 2023 16:19:46 GMT

Security forces in Madagascar fired tear gas on opposition candidates leading a protest in the capital Antananarivo on Monday, amid rising political tensions ahead of presidential elections next month.Eleven of the 13 presidential candidates in the running had called on supporters to demonstrate against what they have described as an “institutional coup” to favour incumbent Andry Rajoelina. Some of them, including former president Marc Ravalomanana, locked arms on Monday morning as they headed a march of a few hundred people towards the central May 13 square.But law enforcement and army officers, who were deployed in the hundreds ahead of the unsanctioned rally, moved to disperse the crowd before it reached the planned destination.”They are crazy! What the soldiers are doing is dangerous,” Ravalomanana said, after he was led away to safety by his security detail inside the car park of a tennis club in the capital as teargas was fired.At least two people were arrested and eight wounded, including six police officers and one presidential candidate, according to police spokesman Tojo Raoilijon.”Things like that happen,” Raoilijon said of the injured candidate, adding some demonstrators pelted security forces with stones. Voters in Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world despite vast natural resources, head to the polls to elect a president on November 9.Rajoelina, 49, resigned last month in line with the constitution in order to run for re-election.The president of the Senate was supposed to take over but declined for “personal reasons”, leaving the task to a “collegial government” headed by Prime Minister Christian Ntsay, an ally of Rajoelina.The move was accepted by the country’s top court, which also dismissed appeals to have Rajoelina’s candidacy declared void over his dual French nationality, sparking the anger of the opposition.”What happened this morning was scandalous but it will not stop us from trying again and again,” said opposition candidate Jean-Jacques Ratsietison, who was at the protest. Police said they had to intervene to restore order as the demonstration was not authorised.”Rajoelina wants to dazzle the opposition with tear gas. It is our democracy that is crying,” added Siteny Randrianasoloniaiko, another presidential hopeful.- ‘Foment unrest’ – The capital of the Indian Ocean island nation was quiet in the afternoon, as police maintained a strong presence in the centre. On Sunday, Rajoelina accused his opponents of creating a political crisis “from scratch” because they were “not ready” for the vote. “There is no crisis in Madagascar,” he said in a televised address.”There are people who want to foment unrest in the country… who want to burn down infrastructure, including the City Hall. We do not accept that.” Last month, the European Union, the United States and others including Britain and France, said they were following the run-up to the vote with the “greatest vigilance”.Confidence in the electoral process is key for the results to be accepted “by all” and to guarantee the “stability” of the country, they said. The head of the Constitutional Court has previously dismissed accusations of bias, telling AFP that the body could not “force” the head of the Senate to take up the reins.Rajoelina first took power in 2009 on the back of a coup that ousted Ravalomanana.After not running in the 2013 election due to international pressure, he was voted back into power in 2018.