When Madagascar's main opponent to the president was taken in by the French embassy on Tuesday, supporters of the head of state took to the streets, incited by a revival of anti-French sentiment.
The ousted mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, has been in open conflict with President Marc Ravalomanana since the beginning of February. Fearing arrest, Rajoelina had already been in hiding for some days when he was offered protection by the French embassy on Tuesday. The decision was encouraged by the international community and the UN, and also agreed to by the Malagasy president. In the afternoon, Rajoelina moved on to a secret location.
The temporary refuge offered to the government's chief enemy only animated anti-French feelings among people loyal to the president. Ravalomanana himself has kept a strained relationship with the island's former coloniser since coming into power. A French expat living in the capital gives us his account of events.
"I heard some rioters shout ‘Out with the French!’ at me"
Pascal Kryl works for an advertising agency in Antananarivo. He's following the events with his digital camera. He writes the blog Actualité Photo Madagascar.
There is an anti-French feeling here and it does surface regularly. However, except for during this crisis, we have few problems in Madagascar.
We're in quite a strange and delicate situation. Those who are pro-president say that the French support the former mayor. Yet the former mayor's supporters think that the French are training the Malagasy army against the people.
At the beginning of the crisis, we ‘vazahas', (which literally means foreign but refers only to the French) didn't get involved. Something along the lines of ‘un problème entre Malgaches' (a problem between Malagasies); we tried not to get caught up in it.
But now that the crisis has worsened, it seems that both sides are blaming everything on the vazahas. A few French people, although it's rare, have been harassed by loyalists. When I was taking photos behind the authorities, I heard some rioters shout ‘Out with the French!' at me. They were convinced that I was a soldier instructing the Malagasy army.
To put Rajoelina under the direct protection of the French embassy was a big mistake diplomatically. Some Malagasies still have issues with colonialism. They're convinced that France is scheming to get this person or that instated as president. And they go around convincing others of it. The riots this morning are proof that the French embassy really was the worst choice.
You hear it said that when the looters have finished with the big shops, they'll move onto the vazahas. If it hasn't already, anti-French sentiment is growing. It doesn't seem unlikely that the rioters will come after us soon."