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Madagascar Remembers its Former President

Didier Ratsiraka, who was Madagascar’s president twice for a combined period of 21 years, has died at the age of 84. Ratsiraka was a controversial figure. Nicknamed the “Red Admiral” for his socialist policies, he was a national hero and great patriot for some, for others a ruthless dictator with policies that led to the ruin of the national economy and the country’s cultural heritage. His ascent to power was largely due to his military career. He was a naval officer and instrumental in the creation of the national navy. In 1972, he was appointed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. When Ratsiraka became Madagascar’s leader in 1975, it was a time of socio-political upheaval. After independence from France in 1960, the First Malagasy Republic was led by the Social Democratic Party and its leader, Philibert Tsiranana. Tsiranana was forced to resign and hand over power to the military, led by General Gabriel Ramanantsoa, in 1972. Colonel Richard Ratsimandrava replaced Ramanantsoa, but was assassinated after just six days in office. Ratsiraka was then appointed leader. Madagascar has had more than 10 presidents since attaining independence from France, but none have dominated the political landscape of the country more than Ratsiraka.