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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 10:55 GMT
Riots rock Madagascar
Burning military truck
This is the first violence in the capital
Violent clashes have broken out in Madagascar between supporters of the government and the opposition.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead, who is in the capital Antananarivo, says that street battles have left at least two people injured but it is not clear if there have been any deaths.

Nuns and members of other religious groups formed a human shield to try and calm the crowd by singing hymns.

Alastair Leithead
People armed with sticks and stones were trying to break into ministry buildings, he said.

This is the first violence the capital has seen in several weeks of massive demonstrations by opposition supporters protesting about last December's disputed elections.

On Wednesday morning, around 200 supporters of President Didier Ratsiraka staged a counter-demonstration.

"The president will always be the president," they chanted.

Framed photographs

They began throwing stones at supporters of opposition leader and Antananarivo mayor, Marc Ravalomanana, reports Reuters news agency.

Our correspondent says that a military lorry was overturned and set alight and that crowds stormed government buildings.

They threw framed photographs of Mr Ratsiraka out of the windows, he says.

Crowd storming a government building
Presidential photographs were taken from government buildings

Nuns tried to calm tensions by forming a human shield and singing hymns to the crowd.

The military kept a low-profile, so as not to provoke further trouble.

The capital has been paralysed for several weeks by demonstrations in support of Mr Ravalomanana, who claims to have won the poll.

On Friday, he declared himself president and began setting up a rival administration by appointing a prime minister on Tuesday.

Shot dead

The government of Mr Ratsiraka immediately gave itself extra powers to try to counter his claim.

But no action was taken to prevent mass demonstrations in the capital or to arrest Mr Ravalomanana.

Although this is the first case of violence in the capital, earlier this week an opposition supporter was shot dead in the interior of the country.

Man with head wound
At least two people were seriously injured

Mr Ravalomanana believes he was cheated in the December elections. He beat Mr Ratsiraka, but official results say he did not get the 50% needed to win outright.

The High Court has set a second round of voting for 24 March but Mr Ravalomanana has refused to take part.

He has proposed a referendum to resolve the election dispute which has sparked weeks of strikes and mass demonstrations.

Demonstrations are now banned under the state of emergency and the government is empowered to requisition all public services and take total control over the media, the post and telephone service.

Mr Ratsiraka, who is believed to be in his stronghold in the east of the country, has said that the opposition leader's campaign is illegal and unconstitutional.

Talks to resolve the stalemate over the elections and the widespread evidence of fraud have failed to produce an agreement.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead
"The tension erupted into running street battles"
The BBC's Jim Fish
"Violence finally engulfed the capital"
See also:

26 Feb 02 | Africa
Rival Madagascar premier named
25 Feb 02 | Africa
Violence flares in Madagascar
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