Dozens of bodies found after Madagascar political unrest: officials

Agence France-Presse | 27 January 2009

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AFP) — At least 31 bodies have been found in the Madagascar capital after protests called by an opponent of the president turned violent, taking the toll in the unrest to 34, officials said Tuesday.

Firefighters found 25 charred bodies in the rubble of a shopping centre ravaged by fire, while six bodies were recovered from a site owned by President Marc Ravalomanana.

"There are 25 charred bodies. They got caught in the fire," Antananarivo's head fireman Jaona Andrianaivo told AFP.

"We only found them this afternoon as there was a lot of rubble," he added.

Police spokesman Lala Rakotonirina said the six others died in a stampede as protesters looted the warehouse belonging to Ravalomanana's own company.

A prisoner was also killed, and ten other wounded Tuesday when security forces fired on inmates who tried to break out of a prison in the capital.

Two people died Monday in the protests, security forces chief Lucien Emmanuel Raharijaona told reporters earlier although he did not elaborate.

The anti-government protests, called by Antananarivo mayor Andry Rajoelina, a vocal government critic, turned chaotic Monday with protesters raiding and setting fire to buildings including a state-run radio station.

Rajoelina's deputy 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.

Although Rajoelina called off the demonstrations, he ruled out talks Tuesday until the person behind the shooting was tried.

"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."

Police patrolling Antananarivo streets fired several warning shots in the air to disperse looters, said Armandin Ralaiko, a senior police official.

No demonstrations took place, but groups of opposition supporters gathered earlier in the day at street corners and a city park where the mayor held a huge rally on Saturday.

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

He had earlier called for calm and talks with his opponent who has labelled his regime a dictatorship.

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

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.

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 outspoken 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.

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.

Original source: AFP

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