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Gun battle erupts between rival Madagascar forces

A gun battle broke out Thursday in central Antananarivo between rival Madagascan security forces, with at least one civilian wounded in the crossfire, an Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent reported.

It was not immediately clear whether there was any political dimension to the clash, which erupted as political players on the Indian Ocean island struggled to find a way out of a crisis sparked by a March 2009 coup.

The shooting broke out when army and gendarmerie units confronted members of the gendarmerie’s elite intervention unit (FIGN), who began a protest against their superiors on Wednesday.

At least one civilian was wounded as a result of the exchange of fire and evacuated by the Red Cross, an AFP correspondent reported.

“We are currently securing the area because there were rumours they [the mutineers] would take to the streets,” Colonel Richard Ravalomanana, who is leading the military operation, told AFP.

“We never meant to attack but they started opening fire on us. We only retaliated for half an hour when we decided to move towards their base,” he said. “We’re moving slowly, we have to be wary of collateral damage.”

The army commander said he estimated the total number of rebel FIGN members did not top 30.

The rebel security forces set up mobile checkpoints around their base at Fort Duchesne on Wednesday.

Thursday’s fighting started at about 7.45am GMT and sporadic gunfire could still be heard an hour later.

The vast island state has been unstable since a March 2009 coup led by Andry Rajoelina, a 35-year-old former disc jockey who ousted president Marc Ravalomanana with the army’s support.

The young leader has since failed to secure international backing and left the country in a state of institutional limbo.

International mediation efforts involving Ravalomanana and two other former presidents have so far failed.

The crisis has left Rajoelina increasingly isolated on the international scene as well as domestically, with the army increasingly reluctant to back him. — Sapa-AFP

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