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Madagascar riots leave 25 dead, 167 injured

AT least 25 people were killed and 167 wounded when security forces fired on anti-government protesters outside a presidential palace in Madagascar's capital, the national police said yesterday.

The country's president and his rival blamed each other for the new escalation of political violence on the island.

Lala Rakotonirina, chief of communications for the national police, said the toll was based on reports from the main hospital but other victims may have been taken to private clinics after Saturday's violence.

A local radio reporter, Ando Ratovonirina, was said to be among the dead.

"We were covering negotiations between security forces and members of the delegation sent by the protesters when the first shots rang out," said Heritiana Ny Anjarason, a reporter for radio Tana. "And our colleague was hit."

Saturday's protest started at a central square where opposition leader Andry Rajoelina regularly addresses supporters. Thousands of demonstrators then headed toward the presidential palace.

Protests late last month by Rajoelina's supporters had deteriorated into riots and looting sprees that left dozens of people dead.

Rajoelina has accused the president of misspending public money and threatening the nation's young democracy. Rajoelina, whose background is in advertising and broadcasting, has shown a genius for articulating grievances in this largely poor country.

But questions about whether he is offering real solutions have sharpened since the violence in late January, and the crowds he has been drawing since then have shrunk.

The president, Marc Ravalomanana, has indicated he sees the 34-year-old Rajoelina as a front man for more established figures in a country known for infighting among a small political elite.

Ravalomanana appeared on state television to say the loss of life was "difficult" and to blame Rajoelina.

"Last week he claimed he had taken power. Today, he directed a huge crowd to take the palace," the president said, calling on his citizens to cooperate with the forces trying to establish peace.

Later on Saturday, a sobbing Rajoelina appeared on his Viva TV station, saying: "I condemn you, Mr Marc Ravalomanana. Was there a life to protect in this palace? Did defending an office require that blood flow?"


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