President calls for talks as protests turn deadly

President Marc Ravalomanana (pictured) of Madagascar has called for talks with his political rival, the mayor of Antananarivo, after protests in the capital turned violent and claimed the lives of two civilians on Monday.


AFP - Madagascan President Marc Ravalomanana called Tuesday for talks with his rival, the capital's mayor, after a protest campaign turned violent and claimed the lives of two civilians.

Growing political unrest forced Ravalomanana, who came to power after disputed elections in 2001, to cut short a trip to South Africa and rush home on Sunday.

The following day an angry mob ransacked and set fire to the state-run radio station in the capital as days of anti-government demonstrations led by Antananarivo Mayor Andry Rajoelina turned nasty.

"I call on people to calm down. We need to put aside our pride, our egos. We need to talk," Ravalomanana said on private Radio Antsiva, adding he had already established "some contacts" with his rival.

There were no demonstrations in the capital on Tuesday morning with the mayor announcing his campaign was on hold after one of his supporters was reportedly shot dead.

"We are suspending the movement today. Everyone should stay at home," said Rajoelina. "There will be no discussions or dialogue today. First we must try the soldier who has killed one of my supporters."

At least two people were killed in Monday's violence, security forces chief Lucien Emmanuel Raharijaona told reporters, without elaborating.

Rajoelina's deputy mayor said one protestor was shot in the head by guards in front of Ravalomanana's private TV station, MBS, which along with the state radio building had been besieged by an angry mob.

Rajoelina has ratcheted up opposition to the government since last month, when it shut down his television network Viva for broadcasting an interview with former president Didier Ratsiraka.

Ravalomanana, who had been due to attend a regional summit on Zimbabwe's political crisis on Monday in Pretoria, flew back on Sunday night to face his own, accusing the mayor of launching a "coup d'etat".

Rajoelina, 34, ran against Ravalomanana's party as an independent candidate in municipal elections in 2007 and since taking the mayoral office has become an increasingly vocal opponent of the president.

He 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.

Former colonial power France on Monday urged respect for "constitutional order" and democratic principles, while calling for dialogue between the parties.

Madagascar has been dogged over the years by political turmoil. The run-up to the 2006 presidential elections won by Ravalomanana was fraught with unrest, including a series of grenade explosions rocking the capital.

In 2001, the country's presidential elections also ended in violence and political crisis when then president Ratsiraka refused to accept defeat.

The impasse split the island in two -- with two capitals, two governments, and a divided army -- until Ravalomanana was officially proclaimed president in May 2002.

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

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