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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
Madagascar violence spreads north
A old steam engine is used in a barricade in the capital
Senegal is offering a way out after months of unrest
At least 37 people have been wounded in fresh clashes between security forces loyal to incumbent president Didier Ratsiraka and supporters of his rival, Marc Ravalomanana.

The clashes occurred in the town of Mahajanga, about 600 km (375 miles) north-west of Antananarivo.

It is the latest incident in an increasingly violent confrontation between the two sides.

But the two rival leaders may find themselves together at a conference in Senegal this week.

Mr Ravalomanana says he won last December's elections and has declared himself president. Mr Ratsiraka says neither he nor Mr Ravalomanana won outright and there should be a run-off.

The country is deeply divided with rival governments, two capitals and splits in the armed forces.

Blockade

Hospital sources in Mahajanga said that two of those wounded in Monday's clashes are in a serious condition.

Fianarantsoa bridge
Violence has spread across the island

One was hit on the head by a tear-gas canister. The other was wounded in the leg and had to be amputated, doctors say.

The governor of Mahajanga province backs Mr Ratsiraka.

The clash occurred after pro-Ravalomanana supporters met in defiance of a local ban on large gatherings.

Supporters of Mr Ratsiraka have imposed an economic blockade on the capital, Antananarivo, which is controlled by Mr Ravalomanana.

This has led to shortages of fuel and essential commodities in Antananarivo.

Peace move

The conflict has grown increasingly bloody in recent weeks.

At the weekend, five soldiers were killed and 18 others injured in a struggle for control of the key town of Fianarantsoa, south of Antananarivo.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade
Senegal: mediation offer
Last week, an aide to Mr Ratsiraka died after being taken into custody in Antananarivo by security forces loyal to Mr Ravalomanana.

The President of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, has offered to mediate in the conflict and invited Mr Ratsiraka and Mr Ravalomanana to the Senegalese capital, Dakar.

Mr Wade is currently hosting a conference there aimed at promoting the continent's economic development.

Mr Ravalomanana has flown to Dakar. But sources close to him say the self-proclaimed president is going there to attend the conference as Madagascar's head of state.

Mr Ratsiraka has said he is happy to meet Mr Ravalomanana and is expected to go to Dakar on Tuesday.

See also:

10 Apr 02 | Africa
Detained Madagascar suspect dies
05 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar 'at war'
05 Mar 02 | Africa
Madagascar 'rival capital' named
04 Mar 02 | Africa
Madagascar army 'switches sides'
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