Madagascar in bid to snuff out protests

Madagascan riot police fired tear gas on Wednesday to disperse protesters gathering for a banned rally in the capital as the island’s president vowed tougher measures to counter a drive to unseat him.

The police action prevented supporters of opposition leader Andry Rajoelina from gathering in Antananarivo’s main thoroughfare, but drew a hail of stones from angry youths.

Police responded by firing warning shots, an AFP correspondent reported. Witnesses said similar scuffles erupted in other parts of the city.

The rally had been banned by President Marc Ravalomanana who warned of tougher measures against Rajoelina’s clan, saying he had “decided to restore order” on the Indian Ocean island.

It was the first time Ravalomanana’s regime had banned an opposition protest since his row with former Antananarivo mayor Rajoelina escalated late last year.

“The security forces will take their responsibilities, courts will enforce the law,” the president told the pro-government Radio Mada.

Rajoelina launched an appeal on February 28 for Madagascans to join a labour strike in protest at the regime but the move received little support and most administrations have continued to operate.

The 34-year-old Rajoelina last week walked out on talks with Ravalomanana, accusing his rival of playing down his camp’s grievances and pledging to revert to mass street action.

The United Nations and African Union have dispatched envoys in a bid to defuse the political crisis and prevent a resumption of violent clashes that have already killed close to 100 since the start of the year.—Sapa-AFP

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