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Thousands march in pro-gov't rally

Thousands of pro-government supporters gathered in an Antananarivo stadium on Wednesday to back President Marc Ravalomanana, whose authority has been challenged by opposition leader and deposed mayor Andry Rajoelina for weeks.

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AFP - More than 25,000 people gathered Wednesday in Antananarivo's main stadium for a rally called by President Marc Ravalomanana to re-affirm his authority on the troubled island.

Mahamasina stadium was packed as government supporters flocked to back the president, whose grip on power has recently been challenged in a fierce campaign by 34-year-old opposition leader Andry Rajoelina.

A huge banner inscribed with the slogan "We don't need TGV", a reference to Rajoelina's nickname, welcomed the thousands of pro-government demonstrators to the stadium.

The gathering was the first of its kind initiated by Ravalomanana since opposition protests started earlier this year, mainly on the capital's May 13 square, a symbol of democratic struggle in Madagascar.

Political unrest in the Indian Ocean country has claimed around 100 lives since the start of the year. At least 28 were killed when security forces opened fire on opposition demonstrators last week.

Rajoelina has launched an opposition government, naming a prime minister and several cabinet members in his rival administration.

But on Wednesday, the rally was attended by several members of the country's officially recognised government and presidential party (TIM) stalwarts.

"The strong message of this rally is to show Madagascar and the international community that the people's voice is not the one heard on May 13 square and that the people are squarely behind the president," a member of parliament from the ruling party told AFP.

The international community has sent envoys and called for dialogue between the two rivals.

While both sides have accepted the principle of talks, Rajoelina has vowed to continue his struggle and conditioned a dialogue on the creation of a transition government or the promise of fresh presidential polls.

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