Thu, Jan 29, 2009 - Page 3 News List

Dozens of bodies found in Madagascar

GRISLY DISCOVERY The country has been dogged over the years by political turmoil, with grenade blasts rocking the capital in the run-up to elections in 2006

AFP , ANTANANARIVO

At least 31 bodies have been found in the Madagascan capital after protests called by an opponent of the president turned violent, taking the toll in the unrest to 34, officials said on Tuesday.

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

“There are 25 charred bodies. They got caught in the fire,” Antananarivo’s head fireman Jaona Andrianaivo said.

“We only found them this afternoon as there was a lot of rubble,” he said.

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 10 other wounded on Tuesday when security forces fired on inmates who tried to break out of a prison in the capital.

Two people died on 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 on 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 on Tuesday until the person behind the shooting was tried.

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 and 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 criticized 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.

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