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US envoy tells of 100 deaths in unrest

MORE than 100 people have been killed in civil unrest in Madagascar this week, the worst violence for years on the politically volatile Indian Ocean island, the United States ambassador said yesterday.

Police had previously confirmed 44 deaths, with most of those in a store that burned during looting on Monday when an anti-government protest degenerated into violence.

"Over 100 are dead. I do not have exact figures," ambassador Niels Marquardt told Reuters.

The mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, has been spearheading a week of demonstrations and strikes against President Marc Ravalomanana's government, which he accuses of turning Madagascar into a dictatorship.

The world's fourth largest island, with a population of 20 million, has a history of riots and instability. Its latest crisis will hurt efforts to attract tourists and foreign investors in the mine and oil sectors.

Rajoelina's supporters were planning another mass rally today in the city's main square. Analysts say the 34-year-old firebrand politician has galvanized popular frustration, and Ravalomanana is facing a serious threat to his grip on power.

Rajoelina has said he is ready to lead the country, and opposition parties backed him.

"We give Andry Rajoelina the mandate to lead all useful discussions towards a transitional regime in our name," the opposition parties said in a joint declaration.

The African Union, the US, and ex-ruler France have called for calm and talks between the feuding sides.

The US called on Malagasy leaders and people to curb restraint and avoid violence.


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