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Opposition mayor Rajoelina vows to fight on

Madagascar's opposition will stage more protests against President Marc Ravalomanana despite the killing of at least 28 anti-government demonstrators, its fiery leader Andry Rajoelina said on Sunday.


AFP - Madagascar's opposition leader Andry Rajoelina on Sunday vowed no let-up in his anti-government campaign, after security forces opened fire at his supporters, killing 28 of them.

The sacked Antananarivo mayor blamed his rival, President Marc Ravalomanana, for the shooting on Saturday as protesters attempted to march to the president's office in the capital.

"I tell the people that their lives, their blood was lost. (But) we cannot stop. The struggle continues," said Rajoelina at a hospital in the capital where he visited the wounded.

"The people need change. What is Ravalomanana's answer? Shots," said Rajoelina, who sources said will meet UN assistant secretary-general for political affairs, Haile Menkerios, in Madagascar on Monday.

Police said 28 people were killed and 212 others wounded.

"This is inadmissible... inconceivable that Madagascans are shooting other Madagascans," Rajoelina said, announcing that Monday will be a national day of mourning.

The United Nations called on Madagascar's government to find the people behind the killings and put them on trial.

In a statement, the spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the authorities to "urgently initiate a fair process by which those responsible will be brought to justice."

France, the island's former colonial master, called on both sides to "reject the violence" in favour of a "peaceful dialogue and finding the path to national reconciliation."

"France condemns the violence and those who provoked it. The violence can only lead to deadlock," the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Some 5,000 people gathered in a gymnasium in Antananarivo for a religious memorial ceremony Sunday. The downtown hall was filled to the brim as mourners filed by open caskets of the victims.

Tension hung over the capital as residents searched for their relatives and friends in hospitals and morgues.

"I am looking for my roommate," said Franck Raharisoa, 24, a university student who was caught up in the bloodshed.

"They fired. I lied down and I lost him. I have been calling him since but only reaching his answering machine. I have looked at all the bodies in the morgue. He is not there."

In a special edition -- the Indian Ocean island has no Sunday newspapers -- The Gazette newspaper carried front-page pictures of the shooting under the banner headline "Carnage!"

It described the incident as "a bloodbath rarely seen in our country since independence."

City resident Fany said: "It is a nightmare, I still can't believe it. I never imagined that this could happen in our country."

Others blamed both Ravalomanana and his rival for the killings.

"Those who led the people towards the palace and those who fired at them are each responsible," said Patrick, who runs a city restaurant.

"I was shocked, but marching like that to the presidential palace is a bit unusual," he said.

Taxi driver Herve said the presidential palace is a "red zone" known by everyone.

"They had the right to defend the area. It is a palace, but firing directly at people? What happened to warning shots? Where was (the) teargas?" he said.

The unrest has heightened a power struggle between Ravalomanana and Rajoelina, who on Saturday announced a rival "transition authority" with himself in charge.

The former DJ on January 31 proclaimed himself in charge of Madagascar's  affairs, charging that the president and his government had abandoned the people.

At least 96 people have been killed since protests erupted January 26 when then mayor Rajoelina called for anti-government demonstrations.

Ravalomanana called Saturday for a return to calm.

"I call on the security forces and the population to lend a hand in re-establishing calm and order in Antananarivo and in the whole of Madagascar," he said on national television.

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