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Defence minister resigns over weekend shooting

Defence Minister Cecile Manorohanta resigned after police opened fire at protesters over the weekend, killing 28 people and injuring over 200. Footage of the event emerged on Monday. (Warning: video includes disturbing images.)

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AFP - Madagascar's defence minister resigned Monday in protest at a deadly police crackdown on opposition supporters, as a UN envoy met with rival leaders to end a political power struggle.

As the tug-of-war between President Marc Ravalomanana and opposition leader Andry Rajoelina escalated, Cecile Manorohanta said she did not want to remain in a government that condoned the shooting of civilians.

"In this period of political crisis, I extend my condolences and moral support to the families who suffered losses," Manorohanta said in a statement read on the private radio channel Antsive.

"As a mother, I do not tolerate this violence," she said.

"It was agreed at government level that the security forces were meant to protect the population and its property... After all that has happened, I decide as of now to no longer remain part of this government."

She was promptly replaced in the cabinet by the chief of military staff, Mamy Ranaivoniarivo, a defence ministry spokesman told AFP.

Security forces guarding the presidential building opened fire on a crowd of opposition supporters who had marched there on Saturday at the urging of Rajoelina, killing at least 28 people and wounding 212.

Nearly 100 people have been killed in riots and protests since Rajoelina called for demonstrations on January 26 against Ravalomanana, whom he accuses of being a dictator starving his people on the impoverished African island.

Upping the ante, the government sacked Rajoelina from his post as mayor of the capital last week.

In a bid to cool tensions, UN chief Ban Ki-moon dispatched a special envoy, Haile Menkerios, who met with Ravalomanana and Rajoelina on Monday.

According to a statement issued by the president's office, Menkerios expressed "his desire to help Madagascar find a peaceful and democratic solution" to the crisis.

The UN issued a statement saying that Rajoelina would agree to dialogue in principle, "but on the condition that this dialogue either leads to a presidential election or a transitional regime."

The United Nations has called on the government to probe Saturday's shooting.

In the capital's May 13 square, the venue of opposition rallies, more than 5,000 mourners gathered Monday for the funeral of four victims, their coffins placed on a stage above which were seen eight photos of other victims.

"It was excessive. I had always remained neutral before Saturday, but I am no more now," said Thaina Randrianalison, a 26-year-old student.

Unlike the weekend, the crowd dispersed peacefully.

Rajoelina's protests had been losing steam until Saturday but the pressure was back on the regime after the shooting, with Monday's newspapers unanimously condemning a "bloodbath," a "butchery" or a "carnage."

The opposition daily La Verite spoke of the shooting's "tragic toll, unprecedented in Madagascar's history."

As bereaved families and other Madagascans marked a day of mourning called by Rajoelina Monday, the international community appealed for calm and justice.

A junior French minister said he would be going to Madagascar on Wednesday with representatives of other members of the Indian Ocean Commission to assess the situation.

"We wish to deliver a message of calm to the population and call on all sides to find ways and means of getting out of the crisis," state secretary for cooperation Alain Joyandet said.

As well as Madagascar, the commission comprises the Comoros islands, Mauritius and Seychelles along with France, which has the territories of Reunion and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean.

African Union Commission chief Jean Ping also announced he was sending Amara Essy, the bloc's former commission president, to the Indian Ocean island to seek a solution to the country's crisis.
 

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