DJ-turned-mayor a thorn for government

Madagascar's capital city mayor Andry Rajoelina has turned into a fierce regime critic since his election more than a year ago.

Rajoelina, 34, trounced President Marc Ravalomanana's party in the December 2007 municipal elections in which he ran as an independent candidate and has since given the regime sleepless nights.

Heading two communications firms, the baby-faced entrepreneur launched the Radio-Television Viva ahead of the polls to popularise his candidature and later won 63 percent of the vote.

Monikered TGV, or high-speed train for his quick-fire personality, the youthful Antananarivo mayor turned the initials into his movement's name: Tanora Gasy Vonona, or Young Dynamic Madagascan.

Tense relations with the government worsened last month when it shut down his television network for broadcasting an interview with former president Didier Ratsiraka.

Ratsiraka and Ravalomanana were embroiled in a bitter struggle after the 2001 presidential elections that plunged the vast Indian Ocean island into violence when Ratisraka refused to accept defeat.

Ratsiraka, who ruled Madagascar for 25 years, is currently living in exile in France after the drawn-out political tussle with his rival.

Rajeolina has branded the government a dictatorship and last weekend called for a general strike that turned violent and claimed the lives of at least 34 people.

The Antananarivo mayoral seat has been a politically defining post in the country and it is where Ravalomanana rose to become president.

Other similarities exist between the mayor and Ravalomanana, who is facing his biggest challenge since his 2006 re-election.

Both men also come from the same ethnic group, Merina, and are successful businessmen.

But Rajoelina will not be eligible to run for presidency in the next polls in 2011 as the age limit pegged at 40 years rules him out.

He has so far balked at Ravalomanana's calls for talks although he suspended the protests, while also calling on residents to stay at home to turn Antananarivo into a "dead city."

Rajoelina has repeatedly condemned what he says are shrinking freedoms on the Indian Ocean island and also fiercely criticised a massive project to lease vast swathes of farmland to South Korean industrial giant Daewoo. - Sapa-AFP

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