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Madagascar protesters set ablaze state TV station

THOUSANDS of demonstrators demanding a new government in Madagascar took to the streets yesterday and set the country's state broadcasting complex on fire to protest the apparent shutdown of the opposition's radio station.

Witnesses said protesters also set fire to an oil depot and a private TV station linked to the president. Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina said two protesters were killed, but he did not give details and there was no immediate confirmation.

President Marc Ravalomanana's office accused Rajoelina of promoting the government's overthrow and declared the government would act decisively to "restore order" on this Indian Ocean island off Africa's southeast coast. The opposition radio station went off the air soon after.

Protesters poured into the streets of the capital, and a five-story downtown building housing state radio offices was razed and looted. Chairs, door frames and steel girders were stolen. Later, smoke billowed from a second building in the complex.

By late evening, state and private broadcasters were silent. It was not clear whether the government had ordered them off the air or whether their operators were simply being cautious, but the resulting lack of information fed rumors and fear.

Police and firefighters were nowhere to be seen and did not respond to phone calls, leading to speculation they supported the protest.

Over the weekend, Rajoelina had called for a general strike to begin yesterday. He appeared at a central square in the capital yesterday morning, criticizing the government. He was surrounded by supporters in orange jackets -- he has tried to model his campaign on Ukraine's 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution.

Hours later, Rajoelina appeared on an independent, private TV station to call for calm. He said two protesters had been killed and two or three injured. Rajoelina pledged to speak publicly again this morning at the central square.

Demonstrators demanded that ministers resign, shouted that they want a new government and called for the opposition radio station to be restored to service.

Rajoelina, who is also the mayor of Antananarivo, has accused the government of misspending public funds and threatening democracy. He has called for Ravalomanana to step down and declared himself ready to take over leadership.

Late last year, a television station Rajoelina owns was taken off the air. The mayor had since been holding rallies and using his radio station to air his criticism of the government.


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